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Review/Interview: Jennifer Loring on Conduits, Japanese Folklore, and Writing Mental Illness with Empathy #horror #mentalillness #womeninhorror

In mid-November, I read a short book that I had meant to finish as an October read. I’m glad I didn’t give up on getting it read. Conduits by Jennifer Loring wouldn’t stop demanding my time. It’s categorized, so I thought, as a horror novel, but it deals more with the horror inside your own mind. So psychological suspense mostly with some Japanese folklore and it’s a brain trip for sure. I’m glad I checked it out. You’ll be able to read my full review below, then join me for an interview with Jennifer.

As many of you know, since in my life I’ve dealt with some pretty heavy and emotional topics, so do I write stories with these themes as well as read them. Some people who go through trauma and then have triggers so badly they can’t write, read, or watch about them. That’s just not me. But I understand if it’s you. So if suicide or mental illness is a trigger for you even in an otherwise amazing read, then you might consider that before reading the below interview or the book. They deal with some dark subjects. However, I hope you’ll read them both and be moved or maybe heal. It’s categorized as horror, but it’s due to the mental illness component and the horrors of our own minds. It’s really more psychological suspense.

Conduits

Conduits, Review –

The book was touching and heart-wrenching all at the same time. I like books that make me feel to this level. This little novella Conduits was first published by another publisher and then re-published by Lycan Valley in Spring 2019. I was drawn to it as I love Japanese literature and horror and it was in shorter form (love short form horror). I initially was unsure when it started about some of how the words were catching instead of rolling off my tongue (and flowing in my head) but quickly that was put to rest as I learned her cadence and the content (protagonist) sent my mind into circles. A literary dreamscape of a piece not unlike horror you’d watch in a episodic tv  show. It’s its own shard of glass (you’ll know what I mean when you read it) in an otherwise cookie cutter world. It’s so original and free-flowing and truly showcases the art our mind can create when allowed to roam freely. I found this truly beautiful even though some of the content was sad, as we get down on mental illness so many times, and yet, people who struggle with it sometimes have the most amazing ability to see things we cannot otherwise see in this blinded world. The emotional weight this tiny book carries is huge, and I’m relating and scared all at the same time. It was touching my deepest recesses of pain. It will touch all the pain you have too.

I loved how she interwove Japenese folklore into the book and I think she did an extremely good job of showcasing the inside of mental health facilities. By the end, you don’t know who to believe or what is going on, except for in the protagonist’s heart. Which is really all that matters that in terms of people, isn’t it?

It may need a second read to fully grasp every component and nuance but it certainly has the feels if you like your horror emotionally-driven, ambiguous, and thought-provoking. Read this one and enjoy every word. Loring truly does have her own writing voice. I’d be interested to see how others interpret the ending. It’s suspenseful, psychological, dreamy in an Alice down the rabbit hole sort of way. It’s a quick read but I’d read it when you have a little of time on hand to think it through and ponder on it.

Join me for an interview with Jennifer about Japanese folklore, research, mental illness, and the future of horror! Enjoy.

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Hi Jennifer! Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I recently read your book, Conduits, and was intrigued by it so I wanted to ask you a few questions. I’m very happy you’ve dropped by. You can head and have a seat at the dining table, those chairs have comfy seats, and I’ll bring in some hot tea. Or if you chose something else, say the word!

Jennifer: Hi, Erin, and thanks! I’m glad to be here.

Erin: There is some cream and sugar on the tray too if you need it. And I’ve brought in some ginger scones. I’ve been trying out new holiday recipes!

Jennifer: Sounds yummy! Thanks for reminding me that I still need to bake ginger cookies!

Erin: Let me ask you a few things about your book – which I suppose readers could get a jest of from my review. How did you become interested in Japanese literature and folklore?

Jennifer: It was because of Japanese horror movies and video games that I started researching Japanese mythology. In the early 2000s, Asian horror was the big trend. I’d also begun playing games like the Fatal Frame series, Kuon, and so forth, which rely heavily on Japanese folklore and myth. The yūrei—the ghosts we all know and love with the long black hair and white clothing—are such striking figures that I knew I had to incorporate them into a story at some point. It was many years before I actually did, but that’s where the seed for Conduits was planted.

Japaneseyokai-yufurei-meijiera

A yūrei / From Wiki

Erin: Did you research or utilize any particular customs or legends for Conduits or was it all fiction?

Jennifer: I used actual Shinto customs as well as the concept of the miko (shrine maiden) in her original form as a shamanistic figure. Shrine maidens used to perform spirit possession and takusen (dream revelation), so this was the ideal figure for me to use as the antagonist in Conduits. I made up the part about the miko carving into herself with glass in her function as an intermediary between the shrine’s god and the villagers, but most of the other stuff was taken from real Shinto rituals.

Erin: Did the legend of the suicide forest in Japan inspire any of your story?

Jennifer: Not directly, no. But I’m very familiar with the legend, so it may end up in future work. 😊

Erin: I only asked that question because a part of it reminded me of that. Mmmm…well, I suppose the over theme is there in terms of this. Suicide is a difficult topic and hard for people to read. I’ve had it hit close to home for me and I’ve written about it in some of my work, but for others they shy from it. I’ve been having a debate about that for a few years online in terms of trigger warnings. How do you feel about writing about topics that push people’s sensory boundaries and how do you feel about warnings?

Jennifer: Suicide hits close to home for me too, which is one of the reasons I’ve written about it a few times now. I understand why some people want warnings, but I also think that some use them as an excuse not to have to think critically about or be challenged by things they don’t like. Everyone has triggers, but it’s not realistic to expect that the world can be sanitized so that no one gets offended by or exposed to difficult topics. We learn to deal with them by confronting them, not by pretending they aren’t there. In horror especially, I think there should be a reasonable expectation that characters will encounter a lot of unpleasantness. Besides, a good blurb will generally indicate the type of content you can anticipate.

Erin: I agree. Mental illness and cutting also play a big role in your story. How did you bring this to the page in such a humane way? Did you research them and/or asylums?

Jennifer: Mental illness is a running thread in a lot of my work because of its impact on various family members and myself (having dysthymia as well as generalized and social anxiety disorders). When you’re dealing with it first-hand, it’s easier to approach it in a more humane way, I think. You know how you’ve been treated and how others treat you. I’ve had family members in psych wards too, so I have had the opportunity to see that world in person. A lot of Mara’s time there came from my sister’s experience both as a patient and as a psychiatric nurse.

Erin: How did you intertwine the themes of mental illness with legend and paranormal so that the reader is never quite sure what’s the truth? Was it plotted out and you created each link, or did it simply spill out of you stream of conscious? It certainly felt like we were in her confused mind.

Jennifer: I honestly didn’t make a conscious effort to create an unreliable narrator in Mara, so it was a happy accident that it all turned out the way it did. Once I realized what was happening, I just tried to get out of my own way and not overthink it. I’ve never been much of a plotter, so it was fun to discover ways I could link the paranormal with both mental illness and quantum mechanics as I was writing.

Erin: I am a pantser too, not a plotter. I love to see where the mind takes us as wrtiers. Your imagery was unique and unnerving. Was it your intent to make the reader as uncomfortable and confused as your protagonist? Why?

Jennifer: Yes. (Laughs.) I love the idea that we never truly know the nature of reality, which is unnerving in itself. A lot of the imagery from Shinto can be pretty unsettling to Western audiences, so I used that as much as possible to set the scene. I researched some of Japan’s paranormal hotspots and incorporated imagery from those as well, like the ruins of Nakagusuku Hotel on Okinawa.

Nakagusuku_Kogen_Hotel_ruins

Nakagusuki Hotel Abandoned / Wiki

Erin: You don’t particularly write HEA endings, but do you feel this ending, without spoilers, was full of sadness and gloom or calming in its own way? For some reason I sort of felt the latter. How do you feel overall about writing endings in horror?

Jennifer: I think of it as calming, too. I like to imagine that Mara is existing as happily as she can in that state of being. In general, I feel that “unhappy” endings are more realistic, especially in horror, but as with Conduits, the definition of that is open to interpretation.

Erin: You’ve described yourself as a more literary writer (I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere), what does that mean to you and to readers? What is the difference in literary horror from other labels?

Jennifer: For me, it means that I love playing with language and exploring the human condition. I think the latter is fairly common in horror, but I remember Gary Braunbeck once talking about his dislike of “pedestrian” writing, and it’s the same for me. How you tell a good story is as important as the story itself. Anyone can tell a story, but not everyone can do it with craft.

Erin: Gary has a lot of good thoughts like this! That’s VERY true and something most people just don’t understand. I also read you think that horror lends itself well to shorter works. I love that because I feel the same way. I love to write and read shorter horror works. But can you explain why?

Jennifer: It can be hard to maintain the kind of tension horror requires over the length of a novel, without a lot of it feeling like filler. I’ve read—and you probably have, too—quite a few novels where you can tell the author was padding it to reach a certain word count. And that just saps the tension for me. I think Thomas Hobbes’ concept of life as “nasty, brutish and short” really applies well to horror fiction, too.

Erin: What’s next for you in terms of writing? What are you working on now?

Jennifer: A lot of new short fiction (of course!), and I’ll be starting my PhD work in Creative Writing next September, so I’ll finally be working on a new novel. I’m already contracted to appear in four anthologies next year—hopefully more on the way! And maybe another novella…

Erin: How do you feel about the market and the genre currently?

Jennifer: I think it’s a great time to be a horror writer, and I hope this boom continues. There are so many talented writers finally getting the recognition they deserve (like Nathan Ballingrud, who deserves it more than just about anyone).

Erin: Where can readers find Conduits and you?

Jennifer: You can buy Conduits from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

I’m on Facebook, Instagram, and occasionally Twitter.

My personal site is http://jennifertloring.com.

Erin: Thanks so very much for stopping by to talk to me! Feel free to come back anytime. I enjoyed my experience reading Conduits.

Jennifer: Thank you for having me! It’s been fun. 😊

About Conduits

ConduitsMara is a Japanese-American girl with a history of personal tragedy. Though she still cuts herself to quell the pain, she thought the worst was behind her. But her boyfriend’s sudden death, and a visit to one of the most haunted places in Washington State, sends her into a spiral of madness, landing her in a psychiatric ward.

Already suffering from dreams of a strange, ghost-infested house in the woods, Mara begins to question the very existence of reality. She is forced to confront the truth about her older sister’s death and the reason the ghosts have chosen her as their conduit.

“An evocative journey into the darkest realms of a troubled psyche. Part ghost story, part psychological suspense…” —Tim Waggoner, author of The Way of all Flesh

Jennifer Loring, Biography –

Jennifer LoringJennifer received her MFA from Seton Hill University’s program in Writing Popular Fiction, with a concentration in horror fiction. In 2013, she won first place in Crystal Lake Publishing’s inaugural Tales from the Lake horror writing competition, which found her published alongside her mentor Tim Waggoner in the anthology of the same name. DarkFuse released her psychological horror/ghost story novella Conduits in September 2014 (which was re-released by Lycan Valley Press in 2019); her debut novel, Those of My Kind, was published by Omnium Gatherum in May 2015. She has since appeared in anthologies alongside some of the biggest names in horror, including Graham Masterton, Joe R. Lansdale, Ramsey Campbell, Steve Rasnic Tem, and Clive Barker. In addition, Jennifer has presented her academic horror research at StokerCon 2018 in Providence, RI, the International Vampire Film and Arts Festival (IVFAF) in Sighisoara, Romania in 2018, and NecronomiCon in Providence in 2019.

Jennifer lives with her husband in Philadelphia, PA, where they are owned by two basset hounds and a turtle. She is currently at work on a number of projects, including more short fiction.

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Thanks for joining us today to learn about Jenn!

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Filed under Book Reviews, Q and A with Authors, women in horror

Interview/Review: Talking with Duncan Ralston about Ghostland, Theme Parks, and Food. #horror #hauntings #amusementparks

I’m really excited today to introduce you to my friend, the Candian author Duncan Ralston, and if you already know him, then you can learn more about his journey to creating his newest book, Ghostland! In full disclaimer, D is one of my closest friends, but my friends know, I won’t go bananas on your work unless you’ve proved it warranted (also, yes I know D is allergic to bananas – but he can have my virtual screaming bananas!). So though we are friends, I suppose it’s his creativity and personality that drew me to him in our friendship, and so in that vein, I also enjoy his story ideas and his written pieces. There is no bias here, I just really want you all to get to know his mind and to experience Ghostland. Ghostland is like nothing I’ve read this year, and really, maybe ever. I fully enjoyed it. So I hope you’ll take my review and recommendation for what it is and then enjoy the interview below – you’ll learn a lot and probably laugh along with us as well.

Ghostland Duncan Ralston

Ghostland, Spoiler-Free Review –

I read a lot of horror, and especially over the years reading slush, editing books, promoting books in horror, I tend to start to see same plots and themes and characters emerging. Not with Ghostland. It’s totally unique. I think I really appreciated that freshness this year. That creative juice and the bravery to go outside the box. I have to say it’s the best book in the genre I read all year and I’m so thrilled I got to read an early copy. It gave me entertainment and fun in a read that I was really desiring and didn’t even know it. I was beginning to go outside other genres again to feel through reading what I needed. I can’t even think of what category it belongs in – it’s too entertaining, but also not in a corny way. It’s coming of age, but not in a melancholy way. It’s scary but not in an atmospheric paranormal way. It’s PURE FUN.

It’s for adults – it’s terrifying in parts – so don’t get me wrong, it’s horror. It reminded me a bit of tv shows American Horror Story’s Murder House and Channel Zero, but it features two young protagonists. I love how he used this viewpoint of characters of a younger age (seniors in high school) without it being strictly YA. I love that he utilizes the male and female friend relationship as well – and how much depth he created in the characters. I could feel their emotions and was both sad and hopeful, as well as understood the pain and love that shone through. the bits of humor. You can have all that in adventure horror novels too and Duncan pulled it off well. Duncan does a great job with characters in his other books and here it’s no different. He delivers psychological themes but easily dispersed throughout the story. I could relate to the subjects of illness and death, walls and trauma, forgiveness. He creates the sort of intermediary/host as the psychiatrist which also worked really well too I thought. He has heart within a story that is mainly an action-filled journey at the most amazing horror theme park in the world.

What’s not to love?

He writes thrillers, he writes ghost stories, he writes horror stories, he integrates virtual reality in a cool way, and he seems to have easily rolled all that up together in this bundle of entertainment called Ghostland. You’re going to hear a lot about Ghostland, I’m sure. His marketing plan was dynamic and bold. I could talk often about it and it can be an example to a lot of indie authors. It should be nominated for awards and noticed for its innovation as well as its well-written prose, for its creative ideas and description, and for its character development.

There is interactive fun too – within the book on Kindle you can click to learn about the ghosts and attractions this way. On the print, you can read about the attractions in the back. There’s a park map. What other books in horror are penned with an innovative experience inside in which you can click and learn more on each haunted locale or ghost you encounter along with the characters at the park? He even goes the extra mile and has an AR technology component for print buyers. And all the attractions are so neat and cool!! (And scary!!) A haunted lighthouse (check), a pirate ship (check), a circus (check). I’m feeling happy with just those, but there was so much more.

If you haven’t read this book, you’ll need to get your tickets soon because the park is open and they can use all hands on deck to keep the ghosts inside. This would make a great gift for someone for the holidays along with a Ghostland t-shirt! People who enjoy video games from teens (who might read some dark fiction) to adults will especially like the virtual game component of this novel.

So much to love. Buy it today.

Without further rambling, here is our interview:

Interview, Duncan Ralston –

Hi, D! Welcome to my Oh, for the Hook of a Book! site. I’m excited to talk to you today about your newest endeavor, a novel and interactive experience called GHOSTLAND! I got up early and baked a carrot cake AND we have the entire cake to ourselves, so have a seat in the big comfy chair in my library and I’ll be right in with some giant slices. Also, what would you like to drink? Rye and Diet Coke? I’m figuring on it, so I’ll go ahead and pour. I think I’ll opt for a hot rum toddy myself.

Carrot_cake_1

Duncan: Hey, E! Thanks for having me! Man, that carrot cake smells good. Is that cream cheese icing?? Yum yum! And yes, Rye and Diet Coke, of course.

Erin: Let me just set this all down on the coffee table and we can enjoy while we talk. Just don’t get any crumbs in my cushions! Later, we can move to the dining table for dinner. If it was much warmer, we could sit out back and eat under the trees, but you know, it’s just a bit too cold in Ohio now. I’m sure you’ve had similar weather in Toronto?

Duncan: Been warmer and drizzly the past little bit, but I can’t complain. At least it’s warm inside.

Erin: I don’t have any heat on. Don’t take off your hat and gloves! I’m kidding. (I set the tray on the table). Let me take your hat and coat. It’s all cozy here. (I walk over and hang the coat on the rack, put gloves in pocket). Help yourself to your drink and cake, and I’ll start the questions or the masses will get hungry and want cake too!

I know that everyone asks this question, so bear with me since some of my subscribed audience is a bit all over in terms of readership and genres and probably need something to start with. What IS Ghostland about and where did you get your inspiration?

Duncan: Ghostland is about two former best friends reconnecting over a mutual love of horror. The setting is a theme park where the exhibits are actual haunted places and objects. It’s clear from the start things aren’t quite right at this theme park – are the ghosts real or VR? And if they are real, are they being held captive? That element plays a big part in the proceedings once the park tech goes haywire, freeing all of the ghosts on the unsuspecting guests.

I drew a lot of inspiration from my love of Stephen King’s books, particularly in my youth. The teenage protagonists are horror fans, like I was (and still am). I like to think of this book as The Shining meets Jurassic Park, though it has elements of a lot more than just those two books. Several readers have correctly pointed to the 2000 remake of Thirteen Ghosts. But those two books were the biggest inspirations for Ghostland, aside from horror video games, which I still love to play when I get a chance.

Jurassic park 2.jpg

Erin: What type of reader is Ghostland for – adults only? Does it appeal to YA readership? It’s a ton of fun with ghosts, but how extreme is it? Is it for seasoned readers of horror only or what other types of readers might try it?

Duncan: It would definitely have appealed to me as a kid. It is a tad darker than standard YA, although from what I’ve been hearing YA horror is taking more risks these days and adding more dark content. The main protagonists are in their late teens, just about to head off to college. But the story is adult-oriented. I think that’s an age most of us can recall relatively clearly. High school and those first few years of setting off on our own path seemed to be burned into the psyche of most adults. It also deals with finding your own path and discovering what you want to do with your life, coming of age, finding and pushing your limits, childhood trauma, etc.

Erin: Yes, YA horror reads quite a lot darker these days. I mean there even IS YA horror. I love that it encompassed all those themes.

Working in marketing for many years, I was quite intrigued by your plan to set the stage for social media users to create excitement for the book. Can you tell us the backstory to Rex Garrote and your short prequel story The Moving House? If readers missed out on that early fun, can you tell them about it?

Duncan: Rex Garrote – and let’s be clear, he is not a real person – is the main antagonist/Big Bad in Ghostland. He was a semi-famous horror author from the late’1970s to the late-’90s, when he took his own life. In my media campaign I pretended Garrote was an author whose work I grew up with – but nobody else remembered. I can’t recall why I settled on this idea, though it seemed to spark people’s imaginations and curiosity.

It was good fun pretending Garrote was a real person. Most people who were initially fooled seemed to enjoy it as well. The only problem is the book I “remembered” became the focus of the campaign – and though I was planning to write The House Feeds at some point, the demand for it means I’ll likely have to write it sooner rather than later.

“The Moving House” is a ghost story on a smaller scale. The creator of Ghostland‘s tech, Sara Jane Amblin, and the current owner of Garrote House, Christopher Hedgewood, enter the house for the last time prior to moving it to the Ghostland park grounds. It’s their first time being there at night. Things do not go well for them.

Read about Rex Garrote here.

Erin: If you’re using the Kindle app to read, you have a great interactive built-in in which you can click in certain spots and read more about the apparitions and such. How do you think this has added to people’s experiences and how much fun did you have creating that within the book? Do print readers miss out or how does that work?

Duncan: Quite a few readers (and reviewers) have mentioned that they enjoyed the semi-interactive elements of the book a fair bit. I based the idea off of the Thirteen Ghosts DVD, which had backstories on the ghosts within the movies. Originally I’d woven these backstories within the narrative, but they were killing the flow of the story. I came up with the idea of doing them as a clickable “guide” much later on and wasn’t even sure if I had the ability to do such a thing. With some research and a bit of help from fellow writers, I figured it all out and I think it worked out about as well as it could have given my budget and technical skills, or lack thereof.

Print users lose out on the clickable aspect, but the guide is still within the book, as endnotes. One thing print readers get that ebook readers don’t is the “Interactive Ghostland AR Experience.” If you scan the QR code found within the paperback, you will be able to see the cover in Augmented Reality. There’s a fun surprise there which ties into the novel, since the park uses a more sophisticated form of the technology for guests to see the ghosts.

There’s also the companion website, which is as much a guide to Ghostland as it is a story in itself. This will tie into future releases within the Ghostland universe.

Erin: Are all the ghosts and attractions made-up in your book or are any real or based on something or someone real? Did you have to do any research?

Duncan: Most of them are made up. Some are inspired by “true” ghost stories. A few “real” ghosts are mentioned in passing. I don’t want to spoil which is which. But there are a few you might have spotted from some of my other stories – those are definitely not real.

Erin: What was your favorite ghost or attraction you created?

Duncan: I said in another interview that my favorite ghost is Morton Welles, a mental patient from the 1900s who was psychic driven by his psychiatrist to become a sort of sleepwalking murderer called the “Bright Falls Zombie,” like the old German expressionist movie The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I’ll stick with him for now.

calgari

Erin: The friendship between your two main teen characters was very real and very meaningful, even though this was a book seeped in entertainment. Do you feel teens will relate and not mind the horror? Furthermore, do you feel adults can relate and why? You have strong character development, why do you feel that’s important to the reader?

Duncan: I feel like without interesting characters, there’s no reason for me to care about what happens to them, as a reader and a writer. It’s one of the reasons I don’t tend to like a lot of slasher horror – in many of them, the main characters are unlikable, interchangeable teens.

I try to make sure my stories are grounded in reality and a lot of that comes from using things I’ve experienced in my own life as the heart of my main characters. From Ben’s health problems to Lilian’s anxiety about her future, these are things I’ve experienced in my life and many people have as well. I’m not sure people need to identify with characters to appreciate them – but we have to at least understand their wants and needs on some level. I hope that comes through in the book but you never know.

Erin: How did you come up with your character of the psychiatrist that accompanies the teens to the park. Why was she, without spoilers, a key component to your story?

Duncan: I’ve been interested in psychology since I was quite young. I knew early on there needed to be an intermediary with Ben and Lilian. Originally this character was a funeral director obsessed with Garrote House (one of the major exhibits), who acted as a chaperone because they were too young to attend on their own. When I bumped their ages up I thought it would be interesting to deal a bit with PTSD, which Lilian suffers from after having been on headset with Ben while he “died” for several minutes. His heart attack caused them to drift apart. I knew she wouldn’t go to Ghostland without a fight, so Dr. Allison Wexler insists she consider it “exposure therapy” and Lilian goes along with it partly out of spite and partly to show up her therapist.

I think that’s as far as I can say without getting further into spoiler territory. But Dr. Wexler is there out of professional curiosity. She’s concerned about her patient but she also believes long-term exposure to Ghostland‘s Augmented-Reality technology could potentially be harmful to the psyche.

Erin: Did you consider reconstructing it into a YA? If so, why did you decide against that?

Duncan: One of the major reasons I decided against it is that the YA community has started to eat itself alive. I didn’t want to put myself and my work under that sort of scrutiny, especially considering some of my previous books. “Ghostland, the new YA horror novel from the author of Woom.” Probably wasn’t going to fly. (If you’re wondering, Woom was my relatively successful foray into “extreme horror.”)

Also, I intended this to be a book any fan of horror could enjoy. Since I don’t personally read a lot of YA it didn’t make sense to me to write it as YA.

Erin: Your cover is also beautifully done by Dean Samed. He’s a great artist and I’m in love with the cover. Do you feel it captured your book well besides drawing reader’s attention?

Duncan: I really do. It pops. It’s enticing. It’s different. I mean, how many hot-pink horror covers have you seen recently? But it also creates a sense of mystery. How did this haunted house get stuck among these theme park rides? The lights blazing from the windows imply something mysterious and possibly supernatural inside. And the teens standing on the threshold, about to enter – it could go anywhere from there.

Erin: You also had a logo and park map done (which you haven’t showed off enough in my opinion) and there are t-shirts, mugs, stickers, and such. Does this add to the overall experience for readers? It’s almost like you’ve created a real theme park! Tell us about that and where to get some items.

Duncan: That’s exactly why I did it! Like the Rex Garrote character, I wanted the theme park to feel like it could be the real deal. I wasn’t just writing one novel; I’m creating a fictional world where ghosts have been proven real and everyone is having to deal with that fact. It’s still relatively new and some people haven’t accepted it and others can’t fit it into their world view. There are people seeing the proof of the afterlife as a chance to get off the ride. They’re starting to teach kids about death in fifth grade health class. I could lie and say I meant this as a metaphor for some real-life crisis, but I didn’t at all. I just tried to imagine how our own world would deal with the news. A lot of people believe ghosts exist but if they could see them? If they could prove it? It would fundamentally change how most of us perceive death. And what it means to be alive. I just thought there was so much I could do with that concept, why limit it to just one book?

Check those out here.

Erin: Let’s head over to the table and I’ll pull out the fajitas I left warming under cover and eat. I’m starved. You must be after traveling all the way from Canada! Off topic, as I set the table, but have you ever thought of doing a world book tour and what that would be like (if dreams could come true)?

Duncan: Love me some fajitas. Can’t wait.

The idea of a book tour in general doesn’t appeal to me very much for several reasons. The first is, what happens if nobody shows up? That would be mortifying. The second is, I’m weird about praise. A roomful of people there just for me – I appreciate people reading my books but it seems like something I wouldn’t like very much.

I would like to go to some conventions in the future, just to meet and greet fellow writers and readers. But I’d rather go as a fan than a guest.

Erin: It would be cool to set a book signing in haunted locations set around a map though, wouldn’t it? I’m full of ideas. Of course, you’d need a sponsor to pay for it. But you never know? A & E Channel? Ghost Hunters? Ha!

What has been your favorite part about writing and launching Ghostland? What has been the most challenging?

Duncan: Aside from writing the book, which took two years off and on – and was both the most fun part and the hardest – I really enjoyed making the website. It was a ton of work but I feel like it was worth the effort. It’s something that will function just as well for further novels in the Ghostland universe.

Erin: Ghostland would make a really good movie, but probably an even better episodic tv show. It reminds me a bit of Channel Zero and American Horror Story’s Murder House with its own twist of course. You work behind the scenes in TV, so this must have crossed your mind! How would that go?

Duncan: Thank you for saying so! I’ve been considering what I would do with it if I wanted to adapt it – how much I would have to cut for it to work as a film, how much I’d have to stretch it or restructure it to work as a TV series or miniseries. I think it would work best as a miniseries, though I could easily see the story going beyond the Ghostland park – as I intend to with the books. The perfect situation would be a blockbuster, 2 ½-hour movie of the events in the book, followed by a sequel series. Maybe a tie-in, open-world video game, as well.

Yeah, I guess you could say I’ve thought about this a bit. 😉

Erin: Without spoilers can you entice readers with something about some of the attractions? What are they? Who are they? How did they get there?

Duncan: They’ve all been meticulously disassembled down to moveable pieces and reassembled in Ghostland, from all over America. There’s a prison, an asylum, Garrote House, a haunted lighthouse, a farmhouse, a Wild West ghost town, a circus, a funhouse, a pirate ship… virtually anything you can imagine. There are yachts and cars and smaller objects like cursed mirrors and snow globes. Some of them are “possessed,” others are haunted by poltergeists, revenants, all kinds of spirits.

Erin: I just love that concept and how you did that. So creative.

Let’s talk about amusement parks, carnivals, piers of fun like Coney Island in New York. I love them all and have been obsessed with this type of thing for as long as I can remember. I still get giddy if I see a giant Ferris Wheel (did recently at the National Harbor in D.C.). I’m a sucker for these things. What sorts of things (actual places, books, movies, stories…) in this theme do you like (besides Ghostland of course, which I heard is in Maryland on my route to D.C. in fact, so I’ll have to be stopping by *wink*)?

Duncan: When I was little we went to the Canadian National Exhibition. I remember this vividly, though some of it may be embellished by kid me’s fertile imagination. There used to be a large exhibit just called the Carlsberg Haunted House, I think. Presented by the beer company. Free admission. In the same building where Medieval Times is now. It was a huge haunted house with animatronic monsters, paintings whose eyes moved, all kinds of cool stuff like that. I remember being terrified by everything, but the eyes in the painting (I think it was a red devil) followed me into a recurring nightmare. From then on I was hooked, but I didn’t know it yet.

I love funhouses. I love the games, even though most of them are rigged. I love the smell of caramel corn and hot dogs and french fries. I don’t do a lot of rides – motion sickness – but I have been known to enjoy the Ferris wheel.

Capital_Wheel_at_National_Harbor,_Maryland,_USA_(Lit_Up_at_Night).jpg

National Harbor, Washington D.C.  By MamaGeek – CC BY-SA 4.0, WikiMedia

Erin: As I shove my mouth full of food, what is your favorite amusement park delight? 😀

Duncan: If you mean to eat, I love anything deep fried that shouldn’t be deep fried. If you mean exhibits or rides, I’m a sucker for a good haunted house. Even the corny kids’ ones.

Erin: Of course I meant food silly! It’s me. Haha!! I like fried cheese and French fries and elephant ears and…oh, were we talking…haha!

The launch of Ghostland, and how quickly you pulled that all off, must have exhausted you. How do you begin to recover and keep marketing and remotely think of writing something new?

Duncan: If you’d asked me that a month ago I would have told you it wasn’t possible. But here I am writing yet another new novel, ready to do it all over again.

Well, probably not all of it. I think I’ll skip the brand-new website/viral campaign this time around. It was a solid month of work, around my day job. Also, I don’t think it would make sense for this book. It’s a more personal story, along the lines of my first novel, Salvage. Folk horror, I guess would be the best way to describe it. I’m hoping to release that as early as February and will probably start writing The House Feeds immediately after.

Or maybe I’ll take a few weeks off of novels and write a couple of short stories. I might be due to release a third collection.

Erin: Yes, yes, and yes! Can’t wait!

You’ve written a gamut of types of books from extreme horror to thrillers and suspense to crime to a ghost story as well as multiple screenplays. Now, Ghostland is another notch that is just a tiny bit different from everything else. How do you please constant fans this way or do you not? Do you just write what comes or what you like or is there a plan?

Duncan: I never really have or had a plan up until recently, and even now it’s kind of a loose plan as to where I want to go with my writing. My ultimate goal is to keep getting better at what I do. Tell better stories. Learn from every book and every misturn in the road.

I’ve always written what feels right at the time. It may not always have been right for my “career.” If anybody would have told me that writing an extreme horror novel for British author Matt Shaw (Monster, Next Door) was going to be what propelled me to another level in the horror business, I would have told them they were crazy. I just wrote Woom to challenge myself. Somehow, it became one of my most successful books.

After that I wrote a small crime-thriller called Wildfire. Just two women with dark secrets fighting over the well-being of a young boy. Then I put out my second collection, Video Nasties. Then a horror-thriller for Kindle Press, The Method (which won the Kindle Scout contest). Then another crime-thriller, this one an adaptation of A Christmas Carol in which Ebenezer Scrooge is the alias of a hired hitman working for the Bleak House Syndicate. It’s my least successful book overall – I think I’ve sold maybe twenty copies – but I enjoyed it and I think it’s a good story.

Writing in any new genre is going to be a gamble if you’re an indie. I knew that. But these were stories that called to me at the time. I’ve found it’s not wise to ignore those urges. You’ll end up blocked.

method

Erin: Absolutely! And I love most all of those. I don’t know why your Ebenezer book doesn’t sell better – what a novel idea and I know so many people enjoy A Christmas Carol and all its many adaptations. Do you hear that fellow Dickens’ Christmas Carol and thriller readers? Go buy this now! Tis the season!

That makes me afraid to ask you what’s next for you, but if you have any cool tidbits on back titles or screenplays, or something cool you’re thinking about in the works, please share with us!

Duncan: I’m going to put screenplays on the back burner for a while. I don’t think I’ll write another unless I’m getting paid to.

Up next for me, in no particular order: The Midwives, the folk-horror story I mentioned, in early 2020. Hopefully The House Feeds (under the Rex Garrote pen name) and Ghostland 2 in 2020 as well. There will be a third collection of horror and thrillers, which will likely feature a return to the world of Video Nasties. A spiritual sequel to Woom, set in the Lonely Motel. And I’ve also been tinkering with a coming of age serial killer novella. We’ll see how that goes.

Erin: Where can everyone find all the scoop and fun on Ghostland from websites to purchase links?

Duncan: You can find everything at https://www.duncanralston.com/ghostland.

Erin: I know also on the homepage of your site at that link, readers can sign-up for your newsletter too. I enjoy it and I highly recommend! THANK YOU so much for coming over and letting me haunt you with questions. You know I loved Ghostland and always love to talk about it. Now we can relax and hang out. If there was a Ghostland video game, we could play it. 😊 I also just realized we had dessert first before dinner. Haha!

Duncan: Thanks for having me over, Erin! Always a pleasure chatting with you. And as for dessert before dinner, that’s a perk of being an adult, isn’t it?

YOU WANT YOUR COPY OF GHOSTLAND RIGHT?

Ghostland Duncan RalstonHere’s the synopsis –

People are dying to get in. The exhibits will kill to get out.

Be first in line for the most haunted theme park in the world – GHOSTLAND! Discover and explore hundreds of haunted buildings and cursed objects! Witness spectral beings of all kinds with our patented Augmented Reality glasses! Experience all the terror and thrills the afterlife has to offer, safely protected by our Recurrence Field technology! Visit Ghostland today – it’s the hauntedest place on earth!

________

After a near-death experience caused by the park’s star haunted attraction, Ben has come to Ghostland seeking to reconnect with his former best friend Lilian, whose post-traumatic stress won’t let her live life to the fullest. She’s come at the behest of her therapist, Dr. Allison Wexler, who tags along out of professional curiosity, eager to study the new tech’s psychological effect on the user.

But when a computer virus sets the ghosts free and the park goes into lockdown, the trio find themselves trapped in an endless nightmare.

With time running short and the dead quickly outnumbering the living, the survivors must tap into their knowledge of horror and video games to escape… or become Ghostland’s newest exhibits.

Featuring an interactive “Know Your Ghosts” guide and much more, Ghostland is over 400 pages of thrills and terror!

Oh – and also, keep an eye on Ghostland’s Restoration Project website.

Get your copy HERE today! It’s available in e-book (and for a short time on Kindle Unlimited) and in paperback or D’s website. Enjoy the ride!

Duncan Ralston, Biography –

Dunc1

Author photo copyright Josh Silver, 2015

“Intelligent, character-driven horror tales.” – Bram Stoker Award-winning author Jack Ketchum’s review of Gristle & Bone.

Duncan Ralston was born in Toronto and spent his teens in small-town Ontario. As a “grownup,” Duncan lives with his wife in Toronto, where he writes dark fiction about the things that frighten, sicken, and delight him. His work has been reviewed in Scream: the Horror Magazine, Cultured Vultures and Daily Dead. In addition to his twisted short stories found in GRISTLE & BONE and VIDEO NASTIES, he is the author of the novels SALVAGE, THE METHOD and GHOSTLAND, and the novellas WILDFIRE, WOOM, and EBENEZER.

Duncan’s influences include (but are not limited to): Stephen King, Clive Barker, Richard Matheson, Harlan Ellison, Jack Ketchum, Roald Dahl, Irvine Welsh, Chuck Palahnuik, and Bret Easton Ellis.

He runs the small press Shadow Work Publishing, which has published the writing of Jack Ketchum, Wrath James White, Jeff Strand, William Malmborg, The Sisters of Slaughter, Glenn Rolfe, and many others.

Thanks for joining us! Please share!

_______________________

Note:

I was given an early draft of Ghostland and an updated version from the author.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Q and A with Authors

Hooked-Up Friday News: Two Books, a Movie, and a Show for Your Weekend. #Ghostland #DollCrimes #DoctorSleep #horror #books #film

I don’t normally do a lot of these (though I might start), but today is a Friday post of a couple good and bad things happening for folks I consider friends.

It’s been a long week and a half and I didn’t get separate posts made as I had wished. I didn’t even let on really on social media so no one even knew but… I had bronchitis for a week and a half and I’m still recovering (coughing and tired). I worked my full work load through it from bed and managed to get pretty much every thing accomplished (editing  a couple books, assisting two authors in self-pub books in process, etc.) while coughing incessantly, including buying two new front tires and a service from the tow truck for $400 when a tire shredded on my partner as he was driving down the interstate. Found out my mom was taken to the urgent care for her heart and she’s being evaluated by a doctor. She’s 81 and I’m worried about her. Some time I need to catch up on sleep but you know I always say that. Oh and I didn’t get any writing done for awhile now, so as always, please remember to buy my first collection too! It’s on sale in print for just $10 on Amazon currently.

These are horror related titles below, and there will be some more horror and thrillers later, but there’ll also be fantasy and historical fiction this month too. So don’t fret. I know I have a lot of readers here with different tastes. There’ll be more posts to come!

First good news!

Ghostland is open – Get Your Tickets!

Ghostland Duncan Ralston

Duncan Ralston‘s next book, GHOSTLAND, has arrived! I’ve been waiting so long for all of you to get your hands on this book. I can hardly believe the day is here! First, since it’s what you take in first with your eyes, let’s talk about this cover. I am IN LOVE with this cover by Dean Samed! It’s outstanding and one of the best I’ve seen all year. It totally brings to life all the facets of this novel. I totally want this on a mug, a t-shirt, a poster, and everything else I can put it on.

Now of course there is no cover without there being a book, so let me tell you how wonderfully amazing it is. Ghostland is something different for us all in horror and I have to say it’s the best book in the genre I read all year. I’m so thrilled I got to read an early copy. It’s gave me entertainment and fun in a read that I was really desiring. It’s for adults – it’s terrifying in parts – but it features two young protagonists. I love this viewpoint without it being strictly YA. I love that he utilizes the male and female friend relationship as well. Duncan does a great job with characters in his other books and here it’s no different. He writes thrillers, he writes ghost stories, he writes horror stories, he integrates virtual reality in a cool way, and he seems to have easily rolled all that up together in this bundle of entertainment.

You’re going to hear a lot about Ghostland, I’m sure. There will be interactive fun – within the book learn about the ghosts and attractions this way. There’s a park map. You’ll need to get your tickets because the park is open and they can use all hands on deck to keep the ghosts inside.

Get your copy HERE today! It’s available in e-book (and for a short time on Kindle Unlimited) and in paperback (if the print isn’t showing up yet, just wait a bit while it shows up). Enjoy the ride!

Here’s the synopsis –

People are dying to get in. The exhibits will kill to get out.

Be first in line for the most haunted theme park in the world – GHOSTLAND! Discover and explore hundreds of haunted buildings and cursed objects! Witness spectral beings of all kinds with our patented Augmented Reality glasses! Experience all the terror and thrills the afterlife has to offer, safely protected by our Recurrence Field technology! Visit Ghostland today – it’s the hauntedest place on earth!

________

After a near-death experience caused by the park’s star haunted attraction, Ben has come to Ghostland seeking to reconnect with his former best friend Lilian, whose post-traumatic stress won’t let her live life to the fullest. She’s come at the behest of her therapist, Dr. Allison Wexler, who tags along out of professional curiosity, eager to study the new tech’s psychological effect on the user.

But when a computer virus sets the ghosts free and the park goes into lockdown, the trio find themselves trapped in an endless nightmare.

With time running short and the dead quickly outnumbering the living, the survivors must tap into their knowledge of horror and video games to escape… or become Ghostland’s newest exhibits.

Featuring an interactive “Know Your Ghosts” guide and much more, Ghostland is over 400 pages of thrills and terror!

Oh – and also, keep an eye on Ghostland’s Restoration Project website.

____________________________

Now some good and bad news!

Doll Crimes

I’ve been so excited for Karen Runge’s next book, Doll Crimes, to publish! Karen is such an emotional and mesmerizing writer, if completely raw and visceral. Unfortunately, Karen went hiking last weekend at a nature preserve in South Africa and was attacked, beaten, and robbed by suspected poachers. Her pack with her belongs and key were stolen and she had to crawl and walk back two miles on her own to find safety and somone to help her. It was inhumane and terrifying, and so of course, the last thing on her mind is being able to promote her book properly. I’m so thankful how some of the horror rallied around to share her pre-order link and cover.

Today, it’s released from Crystal Lake Publishing and hopefully soon my pre-ordered copy will arrive on my Kindle. But it’s had several great pre-publish blurbs so check it out and spread the word.

Doll Crimes is gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, and so smooth it reads like reality.”
– Kaaron Warren, award-winning author of The Grief Hole and Tide of Stone

Here’s the synopsis for Doll Crimes

‘It’s not that there aren’t good people in the world. It’s that the bad ones are so much easier to find.’

A teen mother raises her daughter on a looping road trip, living hand-to-mouth in motel rest stops and backwater towns, stepping occasionally into the heat and chaos of the surrounding cities. A life without permanence, filled with terrors and joys, their stability is dependent on the strangers—and strange men—they meet along the way. But what is the difference between the love of a mother, and the love of a friend? And in a world with such blurred lines, where money is tight and there’s little outside influence, when does the need to survive slide into something more sinister?

Grab it HERE!

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Weekend Watchings

Doctor_Sleep_(Official_Film_Poster)

Did  you hear Doctor Sleep is out today at the theater? I’m so excited. I watched the end of Kubrick’s The Shining last night. Jack Nicholson just makes me laugh with his acting, but in reality, I know Doctor Sleep will scare the crap out of me! It’s going to be really cool how they link Danny’s special gift into this movie. I almost wish Kubrick would have done his film a bit differently and played into that more. But boy, was he good for a child actor wasn’t he? I hear he makes a cameo appearance in this film. Anyway, I’m excited to see Doctor Sleep! But I’m also excited to see Terminator: Dark Fate as well as Maleficent 2 and Midway! As always, too many good movies to choose from all at the same time.

Also, the European show Dublin Murders based on Tana French novels will premiere on Starz this weekend. Have I told you how much I like Starz? They keep bringing me the stuff I want.

If you’re not familiar, here’s a synopsis from the site Deadline: The psychological thriller is adapted by series creator and writer Sarah Phelps. Dublin Murders follows Rob Reilly (Scott) – a smart-suited detective whose English accent marks him as an outsider – who is dispatched to investigate the murder of a young girl on the outskirts of Dublin with his partner, Cassie Maddox (Greene). Against his better judgment and protected by his friendship with Cassie, he is pulled back into another case of missing children and forced to confront his own darkness. As the case intensifies, Rob and Cassie’s relationship is tested to the breaking point and when Cassie is sent undercover for another murder case, she is forced to come face to face with her own brutal reckoning.

Dublin-Murders-poster

Besides hopefully seeing a movie and getting out of the house for a bit, I also should be recording a podcast show with author friend Leo on his Losing the Plot! podcast. I’ve been on before and I’m looking forward to talking to him again on Sunday.

What are your weekend plans?
Whatever you do – reading, watching, writing, or living, enjoy your weekend!

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Filed under Book Announcements, Book Reviews

Review: Little Paranoias by Sonora Taylor #PromoteHorror #HorrorisHealthy

Little Paranoias, Review –

Little-Paranoias-Cover-Front

I enjoy Sonora’s short story, flash, and poetic writing. I’ve read her full-length novel Without Condition but something draws me to her shorter pieces. I was excited to receive her collection Little Paranoias! I think we write somewhat similar: saying much in small spaces, similar themes – musings on death or the afterlife, surprise twists and endings, shocking amid the normal, and involving nature in our writing. I suppose the things I like to think about that end up in my writing is what I like about her short pieces because reading her pieces make me ponder life as well (when they aren’t shocking me).

I especially liked the opening piece “Weary Bones,” which takes us on a journey with skeletons who are, for lack of a better word, alive. It really was ingenious and made me think about how much we do forget our loved ones, in death, even in spirit, that we seem to need voice, warmth, skin. It was well-written and thought-provoking but also gave me a sadness. I only wished this story was longer and had more meat on its bones because it was over too soon and I feel there could have been more. I really felt I knew the character Brandon so well so soon, which is hard to pull off in shorter pieces.

“Crust” spoke deeply to me in a few hundred words and that’s all I’m going to say, but wow did it feature what I struggle with every single day. “Cranberry” scared the shit out of me. That’s some pent up rage and writing that holds nothing back. Many of the other stories dealt with murder of some sort whether a perpetrator, a family member, a spouse, the general populace. I am beginning to wonder if Sonora is a serial murderer in her head. I’m joking (maybe….haha). I can dig it as some of my stories often off men and foe. Many pieces had surprise endings, often they showed clearly life issues which created characters crossing boundaries into raw, primal emotion, and others were creatively done and had such a unique flair.

I actually was completely unnerved and uncomfortable with “Stick Figure Family” – I mean, it actually made me ball up in anger and question a lot, but in a way I suppose that just means it was well-written enough to urge reaction of me as most horror stories should do.

Though I really enjoyed “Hearts are Just Likes” quite a bit – I found it inventive and fun and cool – my favorite story was “Quadrapocalypse,” which has the character starting off on the DC metro, and after, the story splitting off into four ways with four different scenes. I love techniques like this! Also, the nature lover and activist I am really enjoyed the theme of this one. Be good to nature, or it may get you back!!

My least favorite was the last story, “Seed.” I wanted to like it, due to its themes of nature, and I DID like parts of it and the overall plot and thought behind it, but I don’t like too much erotic content in my reads. Also, it was just unexpected because there wasn’t any in the rest of the book but by the end I “got” the animal correlation of it and why. I’d probably not have put it as the last piece, since that should be the blow away read. I’d have chosen “Quadrapocalypse!”

Overall, I really had fun reading a few of these stories a night during this annual spooky reading month! They made me think, made me cringe, made me scream, and even shocked me. Bite-sized morsels of fiction that feel like a meal, maybe your last meal or one that haunts you, but fiction that’ll chill you to your bones no matter the temperature. Highly recommended!

Little-Paranoias-Cover-Front.jpgLittle Paranoias: Stories, Synopsis –

Is it a knock on the door, or a gust of wind?
A trick of the light, or someone who’ll see what you’ve done?

Little Paranoias: Stories features twenty tales of the little things that drive our deepest fears. It tells the stories of terror and sorrow, lust at the end of the world and death as an unwanted second chance. It dives into the darkest corners of the minds of men, women, and children. It wanders into the forest and touches every corner of the capital. Everyone has something to fear — but after all, it’s those little paranoias that drive our day-to-day.

Little Paranoias: Stories is Taylor’s third short story collection and fifth overall release. Featuring cover art by Doug Puller, the collection features twenty short stories, flash pieces, and poems. The collection features an assortment of dark tales, including “Hearts are Just ‘Likes,’” a contemporary reimagining of “The Tell-Tale Heart” originally published in the award-winning anthology Quoth the Raven (ed. Lyn Worthen, Camden Park Press).

Little Paranoias: Stories is available now in e-book and paperback (released: October 22, 2019) and exclusively on Amazon.

Purchase Here

sonora-taylor-2019-headshot.jpgSonora Taylor, Biography –

Sonora Taylor is the author of Without Condition, The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, Please Give, and Wither and Other Stories. Her short story, “Hearts are Just ‘Likes,’” was published in Camden Park Press’ Quoth the Raven, an anthology of stories and poems that put a contemporary twist on the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

Taylor’s short stories frequently appear in The Sirens Call, a bi-monthly horror eZine. Her work has also appeared in Mercurial Stories, Tales to Terrify, and the Ladies of Horror fiction podcast. She is currently working on her third novel. She lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband.

Find Sonora Online

Visit Sonora online at her website!

Facebook

Goodreads

Blog

Twitter: @sonorawrites

Instagram: @sonorataylor

________________________________

Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for a review/author blurb. This didn’t affect my opinion.

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Filed under Book Reviews, women in horror

Review: Historical Fantasy Priestess of Ishana Based on Bronze Age by Judith Starkston #histfic #fantasy #bookreviews

Priestess of Ishana, Review –
Tesha Series, Book One
Judith Starkston
Historical Fantasy

priestess cover 500x750px

Today I’m doing a review of Judith Starkston’s historical fantasy novel Priestess of Ishana, which is book one of her Tesha series. Book two is coming out soon and Judith will be back very soon with a guest article for us, “The Queen Behind the Character.”

We know so little of the Hittite culture, don’t we? I’m enamored by the ancient civilizations and especially drawn to some of them as it’s such a puzzle to figure it all out. These people lived but so far removed from us. What were they like? Like us? Or were there supernatural elements of the gods? Art and fiction point us in all sorts of directions. I’m an overall historical fiction reader as well as fantasy and when they mix, I know it’s probably going to be something I might enjoy. With Judith Starkston, we always get strong female leads torching the way who are modeled after real life classical people of the past.

I first encountered Judith’s work with Hand of Fire, which was about Briseis and the Trojan War, and thoroughly enjoyed it. In her new series, we meet fifteen-year-old independent, strong priestess Tesha during the Bronze Age and Hittolian era, when real life queen Puduhepa reigned. Tesha is modeled after her, bringing real historical elements to the fiction. Learning more about the Hittite culture through this book was exciting, and I’d say… magical… but it WAS a magical time wasn’t it? We can’t know for sure, but I think so. Hittite and Greek culture brings us stories of the gods and Priestess of Ishana was no less filled with the magic, drama, and intrigue of these supernatural legends.

First let me say what I love the most about Judith’s writing is her prowess with historical details as a sturdy foundation for her fiction. That makes her world-building phenomenal in the way that her descriptions make us feel as if we are there (as if she herself traveled there and is interposing details she saw). On that level, it feels as if she entered a portal in time in order to bring back knowledge to us. Her ability to create time and place we can visually see in our heads in such a stunning way is the sign of a wonderful storyteller. She has opened our eyes to history in a way that isn’t documented many other places and has woven it into a story that would propel anyone’s learning, let alone entertain readers.

Second, I am always enamored by Judith’s female leads. My daughter is a young, strong fifteen-year-old and so I loved thinking about her in this role (and think this is a great book as well for that age reader), but also, big shoes to fill! I love that Judith is bringing these lost women of history to the stage from these ancient eras. Her character of Tesha is fiesty, intelligent, and a woman of great strength in a time where military action and intrigue was prominent. Her dialogue, her dimensional work on Tesha, was so good it made you feel as if you might really know her. She centers her tale of Tesha in her teen years as a priestess of Ishana and I’m extremely happy we’ll be able to see her grow in this series.

Even if all that is good enough for me, as I read a lot of historical fiction books based on strong females in history (forgotten or otherwise), the addition of the magic and supernatural with a curse from the dark Underworld weaved in created momentum, action, and excitement. Hattu, who Tesha meets at the temple, is the younger brother of the Great King, and is arrested as an evil sorcerer by her father (high priest and governor). Tesha believes him innocent. She starts on a trek to save him but risks her family’s honor doing so. This is where the mystery and romantic elements come into the story and all was well-written and attention grabbing for me as a reader.

Judith has another win for me with this book and this series. I can’t wait to read more and follow Tesha’s story! Grippint, accurate ancient history mixed with supernatural intrigue and mystery, drama and intrigue, and highly-developed characters with intricate details – Priestess of Ishana has for all the makings of a stellar book for readers of YA to adult. This is another must for any shelf of books featuring women lost to history. I highly recommend this book to historical fiction readers as well as historical fantasy and fantasy readers. You’ll be breezing through it’s pages like you were swept back in time and then not want to return home.

priestess cover 500x750pxPriestess of Ishana, Synopsis –
Tesha Series, Book One

A curse, a conspiracy and the clash of kingdoms. A defiant priestess confronts her foes, armed only with ingenuity and forbidden magic.

An award-winning epic fantasy, Priestess of Ishana draws on the true-life of a remarkable but little-known Hittite queen who ruled over one of history’s most powerful empires.

A malignant curse from the Underworld threatens Tesha’s city with fiery devastation. The young priestess of Ishana, goddess of love and war, must overcome this demonic darkness. Charred remains of an enemy of the Hitolian Empire reveal both treason and evil magic. Into this crisis, King Hattu, the younger brother of the Great King, arrives to make offerings to the goddess Ishana, but he conceals his true mission in the city. As a connection sparks between King Hattu and Tesha, the Grand Votary accuses Hattu of murderous sorcery. Isolated in prison and facing execution, Hattu’s only hope lies in Tesha to uncover the conspiracy against him. Unfortunately, the Grand Votary is Tesha’s father, a rash, unyielding man, and now her worst enemy. To help Hattu, she must risk destroying her own father.

If you like a rich mixture of murder mystery, imperial scheming, sorcery, love story, and lavish world-building, then immerse yourself in this historical fantasy series. See why readers call the Tesha series “fast-paced,” “psychologically riveting,” and “not to be missed.”

Praise for Priestess of Ishana

This time the throne is bronze. – Tinney Heath, Author

What George R.R. Martin’s ‘Game of Thrones’ did for the War of the Roses, Starkston has done for the forgotten Bronze Age Hittite civilization. Mystery, romance, political intrigue, & magic… – Amalia Carosella, Author

Purchase Link 

Amazon 

Start this series with book one now, as book two is available soon.

Sorcery cover - 500x750pxSorcery in Alpara, Synopsis –
Tesha series,
Book Two

A curse that consumes armies, a court full of traitors, a clutch of angry concubines and fantastical creatures who offer help but hate mankind.

Tesha’s about to become queen of a kingdom under assault from all sides, but she has powerful allies: her strategist husband, his crafty second-in-command, and her brilliant blind sister.

Then betrayal strips her of them all. To save her marriage and her world, she will have to grapple with the serpentine plot against her and unleash the goddess Ishana’s uncontrollable magic—without destroying herself.

Purchase Link –

Amazon

Judith Starkston, Biography –

Author Photo (1)Judith Starkston has spent too much time reading about and exploring the remains of the ancient worlds of the Greeks and Hittites. Early on she went so far as to get degrees in Classics from the University of California, Santa Cruz and Cornell.

She loves myths and telling stories. This has gotten more and more out of hand. Her solution: to write historical fantasy set in the Bronze Age.

Hand of Fire was a semi-finalist for the M.M. Bennett’s Award for Historical Fiction. Priestess of Ishana won the San Diego State University Conference Choice Award.

Sign up for her newsletter on her website JudithStarkston.com for a free short story, book news and giveaways.

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All Kinds of October Update on Life, Writing, and What I’m Reading! #October #Halloween #AmWriting #AmReading

Happy October 1! Today, I’ve got a quick forward update!

Snoopy witch

October Life Update and Editing

This is one, if not THE, favorite month of the year for me. I love pumpkins, spooky stories, colorful trees, apple picking, and cool evenings. As many of you know, it’s also TWO of my three children’s birthdays (will be 20 and 16 this year – WHAT? I know!). It seemed like I was just writing posts about us picking apples when they were small and making lists for readers for Autumn-themed children’s books.

My daughters both ran cross country this year, are still I should say, and that will come to a close in mid-to-late of this month. My middle daughter’s selective “a cappella” choir will have their first concert and host it as a fund-rasier for the music program. As well, my oldest is now in Washington D.C. at George Washington University as a college sophomore, so it looks like we will be adding a trip in there at the end of the month to visit him. I just can’t let his birthday month go by without seeing him. I am excited to hug him, but also, to see the fall foliage through Virginia and Maryland on the way there and back. At the very end of the month, my youngest is still looking forward to Trick-or-Treating and dressing up with friends. I am looking forward to eating plenty of candy. haha!

It’s a busy month, but I’m scheduling NOW for editing work in November and December because… well, I have active kids that cost money and I because of my illnesses and circumstances, I have to work from home for myself.

My Writing

October is also fond to me as it’s the anniversary of my debut dark poetry and short story collection Breathe. Breathe.! It’s the two year anniversary – can you believe it? I’ve had a lot more poetry and short stories published elsewhere as well. One of those short stories I’m excited about is the anthology 7 Deadly Sins of the Apocalypse, with an official launch date of October 4, 2019; however, it went live early and hit Amazon #1 Best-Selling List in Horror Anthologies. I’ll have more to share on that but it’s on sale now for .99 cents. I’ll also be sharing things about my other pieces as well as hopefully provide you with an original poem like I did last year (those were about mummies)! You’ll probably also find some guest articles by me appearing on other sites and me in an interview or two.

I’ll have a short story, “Mia,” in the upcoming print magazine Outpost 28 by Dean Kuhta. I will have a story in this with my friend, the amazing Christa Carmen, so I’m super excited about that. Also, it’s getting an illustration from a artist I really like, so stay tuned for more on that. I absolutely think it’s one of the best stories I’ve written and I am thankful to Duncan Ralston for his assistance with edits.

Update: I just found out I’ll have two poems in the Halloween issue of The Siren’s Call e-zine as well. A new one called “The Halloween Feast” and one of the Mummy poems I shared with you last year here called “Dancing with Mummies.”

Reviews, Interviews, and Features Here or Other Sites

I have a packed schedule with publicity and editing work, writing, and kids, but I’ve also made promises and packed my schedule with reading of horror, historical, and fantasy books for review as well as a few interviews. Look for an uptick of reviews on this site , starting with an historical fantasy Priestess of Ishana by Judith Starkston (and a guest article by her) and Ribbons of Scarlet short story collection about women of the French Revolution by a myriad of authors I admire. I’m going to attempt to get caught up on a few back reviews for several genres but I’m also pushing dark fiction, dark fantasy, and horror (and the like) to the front since it’s that time of year! I’ll be reviewing a few new  titles in that genre as well such as the short story collection Little Paranoias by Sonora Taylor. I’ll also have a review up this month on the film review site Machine Mean talking about the movie “The Endless,” which left me mind blown.

My October Reading

I’m doing the #31spookystories challenge on Instagram (and cross-posting to Twitter), because I love to read short stories. You can read 31 short stories or 13. I’m trying to do one per day. Follow me on Instagram stories and Twitter to catch my reads (and follow the hashtag as a whole to get some good short story recommendations) and/or join in. I’ll try to do weekly re-caps of the stories here.

And I’m going to read Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party because it just sounds so good. I recently found a beat up copy of it at a thrift store and I can’t wait to dive in. If you want to read with me, let me know!

Christie, Agatha - Hallowe'en Party

I’ve got lots of things going on, building and coming down the pipe line so stay tuned. I am trying to organize myself enough to keep this spot updated!

I’d love to hear from you. What are your October plans? Do you like spooky, scary, or supernatural books > What will you be reading? Scary movies or shows? > What will you be watching?

Happy Harvest! Happy Halloween!

Erin

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Review: A Torch in His Heart by Anna Belfrage – Time Travel Romance/Suspense

Hi all, I have been way backed up on reviews and interviews due to work and life with kids and my own writing, but here is the first of many more upcoming reviews and posts I have promised to squeeze in voluntarily for authors. I can’t wait to share.

A Torch in His Heart, Review –
*could be minor spoilers*

A Torch In His Heart Cover

A Torch in His Heart (book one of her new Wanderers series) by Anna Belfrage is somewhat out of my usual reading comfort zone and carrousel of reading. However, I got on the ride because there was some sort of time slip or movement element, there was an ancient element, and of course, it’s Anna. I believe I’ve read about twelve of Anna’s past books – she has a superb historical time traveling series that rivals Outlander and another great historical fiction series. You’ll find all of them reviewed on Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I love Anna’s writing, even if I am not generally a romance reader. I will read various genres that feature some romance, though. Those things said, I was ready to give it a whirl. I hoped it would be a summer read, but with kids and work and my own writing, time got a bit away from me so here we are in September – and no worries, it’s a great book for any season.

Why is A Torch in His Heart such a great book? To put it succinctly, in usual Anna prose, there are memorable characters, clear hero and villain tracks, a strong female main character, rousing prose, and witty dialogue. The additive this time that readers should know (of Anna and my own followers here) is the steamy sections. I hadn’t read the Amazon or other site warnings myself, so they caught me by surprise. Anna amped up her romance game by including many explicit sex scenes between the main characters. So fair warning, but also, the good thing is that they appear in proper spots and aren’t corny, but are naturally occurring. I’m blushing to tell you that Anna’s scenes lit the page on fire this series! Some of you will like it, some won’t mind it, and some won’t like it, but as I always say, you can skip those paragraphs if it bothers you and still enjoy the story! They are definitely a small part of the story and there for entertainment, not the meat or foundation of it.

Now that we have that part out of the way, the things I liked the most about the book was quickly learning that Sam, Jason, and Helle all had many lives in the past. A conflicted past with conflicted relationships. The flashbacks were shown in italics, and it’s a preference of my own, but I much preferred the story in the flashback portions more than the modern story because I love ancient history. However, I liked how Anna intertwined the two together and how she pitted good vs. evil and the love triangle.

When Helle gets a new job for Mr. Woolf (Sam) she is almost immediately scared of him and his piercing black eyes and controlling demeanor. He reminded me A LOT of Loki from the Thor/Asgard mythology!! Later, when Jason sees Helle on the street, he is instantly excited, until he realizes Sam must also be around. For the rest of the book, we are flipping pages as Sam tries to put Helle in precarious work scenarios to control her, while she, instantly feeling she knows Jason, but doesn’t know how, throws caution to the wind because she feels an instant connection with him (maybe too instant, but we’ll go with it). He becomes her hero and she calls on him time and again in dealing with Sam. I’m obviously not supposed to like the controlling character of Sam, and I don’t, nor am I intimidated by him or enamored by his aggressive nature, but he was well-written in his role and quite complex and calculating.

Mostly I didn’t like Alison. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. As Helle’s roommate, I feel she should have supported her and not been a vessel for Sam’s whips and chains lifestyle, but I see within the narrative why it was used and how it showed how men can have mind control over some women. I hope this was to show Sam’s evil character and not just for erotic content. I didn’t really like the dynamic between Alison and Helle though. It was uncomfortable to me. Maybe it was supposed to be. It made for good reading drama. I might have liked for another strong female ally or friend to be included, but I also know in the set-up of many of these stories, there often isn’t. I might be thinking outside the box here.

The last half or last twenty-five percent of the book was outstanding. I loved the drama, the action, the love, and most of all, more of the flashbacks. I came to understand more of their ancient past and struggles. I’m an ancient historical fiction type of reader and writer so these parts caught me best. I’d have probably liked the whole book to have been written from this perspective, if it was my birthday and I was given a choice, but of course then there wouldn’t have been the time movement element, which I did like of course. Anna did an excellent job capturing the modern time period though. She had the business world and descriptions down well. The ending of the ancient parts just killed me inside – so sad – though it’s a love story told before, as many take a nod from Shakespeare, it was touching and still hit the heart strings. I enjoyed the ending in the modern era too and I’m looking forward to reading book two and seeing where this cliffhanger goes…

It’s the long-time editor in me and the fact the romance genre is a bit out of my element as a reader that’s made me pick at some areas, but I write to be helpful and with honest thoughts.

For romance readers and fans of time travel or reincarnation-type romances, I have a feeling you’ll love this book. It’s got all the steamy scenes, drama, action, conflict, and enduring connections that will make you both groan at the bad and swoon with the good. Anna has the making of another great series under her established belt and carries a flaming torch herself as she forays into romance.

Note: I was supplied a complimentary copy of this book for review.

ATIHH-1801

A Torch in His Heart, Synopsis –

In the long lost ancient past, two men fought over the girl with eyes like the Bosporus under a summer sky. It ended badly. She died. They died.
Since then, they have all tumbled through time, reborn over and over again. Now they are all here, in the same place, the same time and what began so long ago must finally come to an end.

Ask Helle Madsen what she thinks about reincarnation and she’ll laugh in your face. Besides, Helle has other stuff to handle, what with her new, exciting job in London and her drop-dead but seriously sinister boss, Sam Woolf. And then one day Jason Morris walks into her life and despite never having clapped eyes on him before, she recognises him immediately. Very weird. Even more weird is the fact that Sam and Jason clearly hate each other’s guts. Helle’s life is about to become extremely complicated and far too exciting.

ADULT CONTENT: This book contains explicit sex scenes

Purchase/Add A Torch in His Heart

Available Kindle/Print (395 p); Aug 2018

Amazon 

GoodReads

Anna Belfrage, Biography

Anna BelfrageHad Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing. These days, Anna combines an exciting day-job with a large family and her writing endeavours. Plus she always finds the time to try out new recipes, chase down obscure rose bushes and initiate a home renovation scheme or two.

Her most recent releases, A Torch in His Heart (Wanderers 1) and Smoke in her Eyes (Wanderers 2), are a step out of her comfort zone. Having previously published historical fiction & historical romance, with this first book about Jason and Helle Anna offers a dark and titillating contemporary romance, complete with a time-slip angle and hot & steamy scenes.

Her first series, The Graham Saga, is set in 17th century Scotland and Virginia/Maryland. It tells the story of Matthew and Alex, two people who should never have met – not when she was born three hundred years after him. With this heady blend of time-travel, romance, adventure, high drama and historical accuracy, Anna hopes to entertain and captivate, and is more than thrilled when readers tell her just how much they love her books and her characters. There are nine books in the series so far, but Anna is considering adding one or two more…

Her second series is set in the 1320s and features Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The King’s Greatest Enemy is a series where passion and drama play out against a complex political situation, where today’s traitor may be tomorrow’s hero, and the Wheel of Fortune never stops rolling.

If you want to know more about Anna, visit her website!

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Review: Children’s Picture Book Little Taco Truck is Colorful and Inclusive

Little Taco Truck
Children’s Picture Book Review –

LTT Cover.jpg

When my daughters and I were asked to review Little Taco Truck, by Tanya Valentine, we jumped at the chance because…well, we are foodies as well as readers and put the two together and we are sold. Furthermore, TACOS! Need I say more?

Today is release day for this darling, fun children’s picture book and I’m so happy I can tell you all about it. We should celebrate with tacos now that I think about it! I digress.

Even though I have girls, and my 11-year-old and I had previously loved Dragons Love Tacos, this book featured food trucks, which could be focused more toward boys, but yet we really didn’t notice that when reading it – and my daughter certainly didn’t. That’s just my afterword thinking. There were female food trucks as well as male and it seemed to work across genders so if you have a little girl loves food or cute illustrations, I don’t think you should pay it mind in this day and age that it’s a vehicle-driven (no pun intended…or is there?) story.

The message in this story crosses gender and ethnicity boundaries teaching an important lesson about inclusiveness, overcoming shyness or feelings of being left out or pushed out, and ultimately, also standing up for yourself to get what you want.

LTT photo 1

As Little Taco Truck feels pushed out by bigger trucks with each passing day, and food that could far outweigh his simple tacos, he stakes his claim after problem solving. Though I am not so sure about his “stomping his wheels I’m here” mentality and anger, I suppose that’s one way to say, “I’m here and I’m staying.” It’s admirable to stand your ground sometimes. I think possibly I’d have toned down it down to have stated it in a calm manner, but I did like the reactions of the other trucks in their apologies and in their willingness to make room for all.

In the world today, there are important lessons here about many various cultures and personalities living amid each other and that we must work to include everyone and see their side of the equation.

The illustrations are lovely colorful and bright with a Hispanic flair that matches the taco truck being the main character. I liked how the illustrator Jorge Martin drew the food and sometimes with faces – but then I’m like I really don’t want to eat the falafel with faces! Haha! It was very cute though and I enjoyed looking at the art very much, which is a huge sell to me in a picture book. I believe the illustrations, with their joyful aura and colorful nature will largely appeal to young kids. I loved the flowers in the pots, and his attention to detail; I loved the little falafel, faces and all, and the tacos. My daughter loved the crayfish on top of the gumbo truck, for instance. It was heart-warming work and also made us hungry! Now, we want to go to this street and partake of all the food trucks – he made the community feel of them all very vibrant and real.

LTT 2

Overall, this was an engaging story for young readers who are being read to or who are captivated by pictures with their stories. This would be a bright story with a good lesson to read during story times or in the classroom. A happy ending is always a good ending!

With a colorful bustle in the illustrations, a good resolution to a problem in the writing, and captivation personalities within the writing and the art, Little Taco Truck is one you’ll want to snatch up for a morning read with a child, then if possible, take a walk to a food truck for lunch!

Little Taco Truck, Synopsis and Info –

LTT Cover

Print Length: 40 pages

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade

Publication Date: April 2, 2019

Sold by: Random House LLC

 Dragons Love Tacos meets Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, LITTLE TACO TRUCK is an irresistibly kid-friendly read-aloud about a little taco truck that is having trouble finding a place to park. It’s released today (April 2, 2019)!

Little Taco Truck serves up tasty treats to the hungry workers on Union Street…until one day, Miss Falafel shows up with her baked pita bread and crunchy chickpea fritters–and parks in his space. The next day, Miss Falafel is there again, and this time she’s brought Gumbo Jumbo and Annie Arepas with her. Little Taco Truck’s headlights dim. What if people like Gumbo Jumbo’s spicy stew and Annie Arepas’s warm cornbread cakes more than they like his tacos? When more trucks arrive the following day and there’s no space left for Little Taco Truck, he swishes his wipers to hide his tears and heads home. At last, with some ingenuity and help from new friends, Little Taco Truck wins back his coveted parking spot. And guess what? There is room enough for everyone!

Packed with flavor and savory smells, this irresistible read-aloud about friendship and determination is perfect for even the youngest truck and taco fans.

Author Tanya Valentine, Biography –

Tanya ValentineTanya Valentine is an active member of SCBWI and The Atlanta Writer’s Club. She is the author of All Bears Need Love, a picture book about interracial adoption, and Little Taco Truck, an irresistible read-aloud about friendship and determination.

Her dream food truck would offer every single kind of Italian food. It would be amazing. And enormous. S

he lives in Atlanta with her husband, two kids, one cat and a turtle.

Find out more about Tanya –

Website

Twitter

Illustrator Jorge Martin, Biography –

Jorge-Martin-220x220Jorge Martin is the author and illustrator of I’m Hungry and the illustrator of A Cat Is Better by Linda Joy Singleton.

His perfect food truck would serve Spanish omelets – made with eggs, potato, and onion. Simply delicious!

He has traveled and lived around the world. After more than a decade in London, and has now returned to his native country and lives in a tiny hamlet in northern rural Spain, population twenty.

Find out more about Jorge –

Website

Instagram

Thanks for reading! I was given a media review copy of Little Taco Truck by the publisher but this is my honest review.

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Review: The Parting Glass by Gina Marie Guadagnino Brings Love and Drama Circa 19th Century NYC and Irish Immigrants #histfic #histnov #lgbt

The Parting Glass, Historical Fiction Review –

Parting Glass Cover

With St. Patrick’s day not long behind us, and it still being women in history month, I have a review of the recently released The Parting Glass by Gina Marie Guadagnino, which features Irish-American characters. Last week, I posted an interview HERE on the site with the author as well, which will give you more insight into her book and the processes to her publishing it. I’d suggest going back and reading that if you haven’t after you take in this review. I believe the author is currently in Ireland, so I can’t wait what she uncovers to write about next.

The Parting Glass is the new debut historical fiction novel from Gina Marie Guadagnino and published by Atria set in 19th century New York City. It delves into themes of Irish-American immigrant life, and worth nothing in my own quest to support inclusivity in art, that it has LGBTQ+ themes in regards to featuring lesbian characters.

Generally I don’t often think there is a reason to single out the sexual orientation of characters, but since it’s an historical time period as well as a deep part of the characters and their interactions with each other and the times, I think it’s important to identify it as a key part of her work. It’s been called reminiscent of Sarah Waters, and I agree to some degree, because she handles her characters with great emotion and care.

Mary Ballard is an Irish handmaiden who falls in love with the lady she assists, who happens to be herself in a forbidden-type of tryst with the Irish brother of Ballard, who works in the stables. Yep, cue drama. Mostly for Mary Ballard, whose heart pines to frustration. It’s forbidden (what? all of it) in the 19th century, of course, in an upstairs/downstairs sort of way first of all, as Ballard and her brother are hired help, and Charlotte Walden is aristocracy living in Washington Square (the area of the rich who hired low-wage labor). The lesbianism would be frowned upon too, but that’s the heart-wrenching part too, as it’s unrequited love. Cue more angst in here.

Also racism is heavy at work during this time period, though it’s coming to the tail end of it (kinda? I think it’s still going on now), so the climax is heated as the Nativists and the No Nothing Party spew hatred against Catholics, Irish, immigrats as a whole. There is also a lot of corruption and gangs. That’s why some people liken this to part Gangs of New York. I get that.

Guadagnino has done a tremendous amount of research and it shows in her writing, which is beautiful and captivating both. Her historical details are plenty and give a solid foundation for the story to unfold and the well-developed characters to flourish. The best developed was Mary of course, both sides of her personalities as you’ll come to read, but Charlotte needed some work to not be sterile (even if high society ladies may have seemed so at the time, she was rebelling and have sex with the stable hand – his character also ignited by the fact he is leading an Irish gang).

Given the lush and vivid descriptions of this area of NYC, it’s obvious Guadagnino knows, loves, and has researched the history of it extensively. The setting is a marvelous backdrop for which the story unfolds with some twists and turns amid the drama. I truly enjoyed the imagery she presented to the reader with her engaging prose.

In wearing my editor’s hat, I’ll note that though it was clean, lush, descriptive, and a dramatic, enjoyable read, it does what so many traditionally published debut historical fiction books do, and that’s possibly try to do too much and not be able to wrap up all the intertwining plots quickly enough by the ending page count a publisher wants. It could have been strictly a romance or a strictly a take on the Irish immigrant issue of the day, because there was enough plot to both. If I was to offer suggestions, I’d have played up the latter and toned down the romance and the focus on the maid living this dual life, or picked one or the other of the sister and brother to focus on. But that is just a small suggestion in the whole scheme of the book.

If you want a 19th century romp in NYC, with drama among the class system, a woman’s journey to self, and a lesson in Irish immigrants and their plight, this book will be a steamy and interesting read for you. Guadagnino definitely knows her Irish-American history and culture and how it intertwined with others in this time and place. Her love of NYC is undeniable. There aren’t many historical fiction books out there that I know of that use the Irish-American culture in their narratives and I am glad to see her rise to the occasion as there are so many stories to tell and create!

Highly recommended as a unique, cultural yet entertaining read that will tug at your heart strings and leave you breathless by the end.

The Parting Glass, Information –

Parting Glass CoverPub date: March 5, 2019
Publisher: Atria
Hardcover; $26.00
ISBN: 978-1501198410

Will a brother and sister’s steadfast vow withstand their wild devotion to the same woman? THE PARTING GLASS, a tempestuous nineteenth century love triangle threatens all that one secretive servant holds dear, is Gina Marie Guadagnino’s lush and evocative debut.

Posing as a lady’s maid in 1837 New York City, Maire O’Farren must tread carefully. The upper echelons of society despise the Irish and Maire, known to her employers only as Mary Ballard, takes great care to conceal her native lilt and lineage. Nor would the household be pleased with a servant who aids her debutante’s midnight assignations with a stable groom. Least of all would they tolerate a maid who takes a stronger liking to her charge than would be deemed entirely suitable for her sex.

Maire tends to wealthy young heiress Charlotte Walden’s every whim and guards her every secret. Though it pains her, Maire even delivers her brother Seanin to her beloved’s bed each Thursday night, before shedding her clandestine persona and finding release from her frustration in the gritty underworld around Washington Square. Despite her grief, Maire soon attracts the attentions of irreverent and industrious prostitute Liddie Lawrence, who soothes Maire’s body and distracts her burning heart.

As an English baron and a red-blooded American millionaire vie for Charlotte’s affections, Seanin makes calculated moves of his own, adopting the political aspirations of his drinking companions and grappling with the cruel boundaries of class and nationality. As Seanin rises in rank in a secret society and the truth of both women’s double lives begin to unravel, Charlotte’s secrets soon grow so dangerous even Maire cannot keep them. Forced to choose between loyalty to her brother or to her lady, between respectable society or true freedom, Maire finally learns that her fate lies in her hands alone.

Deeply researched and finely rendered, THE PARTING GLASS captures the delicate exuberance of nineteenth century high society, while examining sexuality, race, and social class in ways that feel startlingly familiar and timely. Perfect for fans of Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith and Emma Donoghue’s Slammerkin, Guadagnino’s captivating upstairs/downstairs historical fiction debut will leave readers breathless.

Gina Marie Guadagnino, Biography –

Gina Marie Guadagnino Author Photo by L.M. PaneGina Marie Guadagnino received a BA in English from New York University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the New School.

Her work has appeared in the Morris-Jumel Mansion Anthology of Fantasy and Paranormal FictionMixed Up: Cocktail Recipes (and Flash Fiction) for the Discerning Drinker (and Reader).

She lives in New York City with her family.

Praise for The Parting Glass

Downton Abbey meets Gangs of New York in this darkly compelling debut. A claustrophobic love triangle of stifled desire and class warfare plays out to deadly, devastating effect. A gem of a novel to be inhaled in one gulp.” —Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of THE ALICE NETWORK

“Knotted thickly with secrets both fervid and calculating, to read THE PARTING GLASS is to enter a jungle of passions and lies. Immaculately researched and gorgeously written, this book is noteworthy for its grasp of the agony caused by hiding cracks in the human heart. A thoughtful, lyrical, sensuous, moving tour-de-force.” —Lyndsay Faye, author of JANE STEELE

Purchase –

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Enjoy!

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Review: Inspiring Children’s Picture Book ANOTHER by Caldecott Honoree Christian Robinson

Children’s Picture Book Review:
Another by Caldecott Honoree Christian Robinson

Another cover

When we received a review copy of Another, a new picture book by Christian Robinson in the mail from Simon and Schuster, my fifteen-year-old daughter Emma with me, we were instantly struck by the unique and colorful cover. We couldn’t wait to show my eleven-year-old daughter too! I understand that the ages of my children probably aren’t in the normal target range, but I’ve been a children’s book lover all my own adult life since I was little and have passed this love onto my own children. Not only are we collectors, but we like to recommend to elementary schools, libraries, and others buying for young children leaning on our life long experiences. Also, Emma loves art and illustration, so she loves looking at it from that perspective with me.

The next thing we noticed was that it’s a picture book with no words! The art was so pleasantly creative and inspiring that no words were needed, however. Emma and I both found that we could talk about the story’s progression on each page and give our own thoughts and comments to each other. This makes it a great read along book perfect for looking at with young children and asking thought-provoking or critical thinking questions to spur the imagination. I’ve always believed this to be important in the growth of young brains. Their own ability to form opinions and thoughts at a young age help them with life-long decision-making skills.

The story flowed so well, because Robinson draws with motion and fluidity in mind. It’s a full-size picture book but if it was in small form, it could almost be like one of those flip books in which the movement makes it animated. You can certainly tell his animator experience shining though. I believe this also helps keep the book moving even though there are no words. We can see the story popping off the page in front of you without need of script. The personalities of the young girl and the cat jumps clearly out to us. Energy, excitement, and exploration ooze off the page to readers. We found ourselves smiling at each page.

AnotherPubDate

This will appeal to children who love adventure or children whose home lives dictate imagination be their way to survival. This endeared me greatly to the book. The themes within this book of your life having a parallel one – a new world in which you can see your life or yourself differently and a new place where you can see all new things and new people. I really liked how in the pages showcasing the meeting of others, he took the care to draw those of other religions or with disabilities because you’ll meet them everywhere. A perfect parallel world where people are happy still contains all sort of people living their lives.

I am a person who really loves bright colors and I thoroughly enjoyed the colors he utilized and his style and use of colorful dots, from in the girl’s hair to the other uses scattered throughout. It really made the book feel fun. I also love his cat! I have my own black and white cat, and so it reminded my daughter and I of our very own curious and mischievous cat. The best way my daughter described his style, was “cute.” And I agree. The book/art reminded me a lot of my own childhood growing up watching Sesame Street or Reading Rainbow and then passing on those traditions to my own children.

Overall, my daughter and I loved looking and talking about this book together. I think it will be a favorite on our shelves. As a former librarian, bookseller of children’s books, and mother of three, I have no hesitation to suggest this for use in reading with children in an environment that will help them learn and grow through the use of their own words. We even loved the end inside cover interior art (and the back cover photo) of the solar system/stars and the girl in the story (and cat) looking through the telescope. I can only hope that possibly he creates a second book in which she looking into, and instead of crawling through the dream hole as in this book, takes off for outer space.

Thank you to Christian Robinson for not only creating this wonderful book but for the half an hour precious moment he gave me with my teenage daughter that made us both feel like she was young again (and that I was too). It’s obviously created for a younger target market in mind, and will work well presented to them with discussion, but it can make all ages happy. His art and story is inspiring and Another will be a timeless classic. I look forward to seeing what Robison does in the future!

Another cover

ANOTHER by Christian Robinson, an eagerly anticipated debut as an author-illustrator from a Caldecott and Coretta Scott King honoree. Allow Christian Robinson to bring you on a playful, imaginative journey into another world.

What if you…

Encountered another perspective?

Discovered another world?

Met another you?

 What might you do?

 Recipient of four starred reviews, School Library Journal calls it “both beautiful and fanciful… a work of art and celebration of childhood.”

★ “A work of art and celebration of childhood for all libraries.”
— School Library Journal, starred review

★ “Robinson’s work comes alive in this expanse of wordless narrative.”
— Kirkus Reviews, starred review

★ “An adventure that will both puzzle and amuse.”
— Publishers Weekly, starred review

★ “smart, sly, and imaginative”
— Horn Book, starred review

Purchase Links –

IndieBound

Amazon

Christian Robinson, Biography –

Christian RobinsonChristian Robinson was born in Hollywood, California, in 1986. He grew up in a small one-bedroom apartment with his brother, two cousins, aunt, and grandmother. Drawing became a way to make space for himself and to create the kind of world he wanted to see.

He studied animation at The California Institute of the Arts and would later work with the Sesame Street Workshop and Pixar Animation Studios before becoming an illustrator of books for children.

His books include Gaston and Antoinette, written by Kelly DiPucchio, and the #1 New York Times bestseller Last Stop on Market Street, written by Matt de la Peña, which was awarded the Caldecott Honor, the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, and the Newbery Medal.

He presently lives in Northern California with his rescue greyhound Baldwin and several houseplants. He looks forward to one day seeing the Aurora Borealis. Visit him online at TheArtofFun.com, Twitter, or on Instagram.

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