March Author of the Month: Dr. Helen Frisby

Authors photo supplied by Dr. Helen Frisby

My Author of the Month this month is Dr. Helen Frisby. A very talented lecturer and non-fiction writer whose latest book, Traditions of Death and Burial, had me talking the ears off of family and friends. Helen currently, teaches at the University of Bristol, UK, and is an internationally recognized expert on history, folklore, and material culture of death, dying and bereavement. Helen has also appeared on the History Channel and BBC Radio 4.

Without further ado, let’s get to know Helen

First things first: are you a tea in bone china drinker or a coffee in a mug drinker?

Coffee in a mug. I collect vintage china teasets, but am too scared to use them in case I break them!

· Which books would you say impacted you most during your childhood?

I learned to read using the Ladybird Peter and Jane series, so you could say that they had a big impact. My teacher insisted that I ‘wasn’t ready’, so my parents took matters into their own hands and taught me. I’m very grateful to them for doing that. My childhood books were pretty typical of the time – Mog, Noddy, Wombles, Paddington Bear, Famous Five, Malory Towers and so on. Some of those are probably a bit old-fashioned now, but others have stood the test of time.

· What do you read in your downtime and what are you currently reading now?

I usually have one serious and one fun book on the go at a time. My current serious book is With The End In Mind by palliative care doctor Kathryn Mannix. I agree with her that we urgently need a new – or maybe reinvented – ritual vocabulary around death and dying.

My fun book at the moment is Cloak of Deception by James Luceno. I’m a huge Star Wars fan.

· Who or what led you to follow the field of research your in?

As an undergraduate I was taught by the amazing Professor Douglas Davies, who ran a course on ‘Death, Ritual and Belief.’ I didn’t know it then, but this (late 1990s) was the time when death studies was really taking off as an academic subject. My subsequent Masters’ dissertation was a micro-study of popular attitudes to death in Reformation York, and that in turn led to a PhD on Victorian folk funeral customs. Meanwhile, attending a particularly dreadful funeral around this time gave personal force to my growing belief that the past has a lot to teach us about dealing better with death.

· Your field of interest, I’m sure, can be quite overwhelming, do you find you need to take a step back at times? If so, what do you do?

I’m part of an international, multidisciplinary community of death studies scholars, and regularly touching base with people in that world who ‘get’ it helps keep things in perspective. In the lecture hall or seminar room we’re in academic mode, debating and discussing the issues, but otherwise we just talk about all the normal stuff that friends and colleagues do.

Attending funerals – obviously I’m there as a participant, but that said I never can completely put my inner observer away, so yes I do also end up analysing what’s going on. I guess it’s my way of coping.

Beyond my research I enjoy pottering at home, going to the cinema, theatre, music concerts and so on. I’d like to be good at gardening, but the reality is that I quickly get bored and cold, and end up paying somebody else to do it.

· In the heritage world, oral histories are finding a solid footing and turning up interesting results with regards to social history and its impact on the present-day generation. With regards to your current research, Grave Communications: An Oral History of Gravedigging, are you finding compelling results?

Dr Stuart Prior and I have found that gravediggers – or cemetery operatives as they’re called nowadays – are a really key part of how we do death in this country. However, until we came along nobody had previously thought to consult them in any detail – how a cemetery works day to day, and exactly how do you dig and then maintain the graves. Given that the UK presently is in the throes of a burial space shortage this seemed to us an especially peculiar oversight, one that our research is now correcting.

· Do you find stories of the supernatural turn up during your research and could you share one with us?

Our ancestors had a strong sense that until the funeral had taken place the dead weren’t so much dead, as lurking somewhere in-between life and death. It was therefore necessary to keep a watchful eye on while the body was laid out at home, and Folklore journal recounts a tale from a Worcestershire village about 1860, about a child who had died at the baker’s house: ‘One of the neighbours had been present in the sick-room, and after all was over she and the mother were sitting together in a downstairs room, when a slight noise was heard upstairs, rousing them both. The mother wanted to go up to the dead child, but the other restrained her. “You mown’t go upstairs. It’s Little Lucy. Yes, she’s dead, ma’am, but her spirit bain’t gone yet. We mown’t disturb her.”’

· You have done a lot of public speaking with students and on TV/Radio. Which do you find more nerve wracking?

Both in different ways. I’ve learned that it’s not the end of the world if you’re not always technically perfect as a speaker; what audiences really want – especially with a topic like this – is authenticity and warmth. And knowing my stuff, of course!

· Your area of interest has led to a treasure trove of information that I’m sure would make a spectacular gothic horror, have you ever thought about penning a fiction?

If I ever did write a (semi) fiction book it would actually be about one of my cats, and how he was adopted, escaped on the first night then travelled for three months to get back to his old home. My husband and I take his staying with us as proof that we’re running an acceptable cat hotel.

Traditions of death and burial:

Image supplied by Dr. Helen Frisby

· Do you have a favourite anecdote you’ve came across while researching?

My all-time favourite is the 1920s Yorkshire folklore collector Henry Fairfax-Blakeborough’s wry observation that port wine didn’t count as alcoholic when drunk at funerals, with the consequence that certain otherwise strict teetotallers were rather prone to, ahem, overdoing it on these occasions. This always amuses audiences, and is a nice reminder that sadness and humour are very often two sides of the same coin.

· If you could time travel, which period in history would you like to have gone back and witnessed for researching your book?

If I really had to choose, then it would probably be the medieval period. However I’d insist on taking some twenty-first century painkillers with me – it’s easy to over-romanticise the past, forgetting that the modern way of dying does have its plus points. And the greatest of these, I would argue, is effective pain relief.

· Your section about Halloween and All Souls Day was interesting and not something I have come across before. Do you know if All Souls Day is still observed?

Not that I’m aware of, but I’m saying that very carefully because you never know when somebody will say actually we do still do that!

· The connection you make between a low life expectancy and the need to be hands-on to help the soul and body compared to a long life expectancy and having a more hands-off approach is compelling. I’ve read around this subject and ultimately not made the connection until reading your argument. Have you found many other readers like me in this regard or perhaps yourself?

I usually begin talks by noting what sociologists call ‘the predictable death trajectory’ – whereby nowadays most of us in the West die gradually from the chronic diseases associated with old age. I also talk about our modern ‘sequestration’ of the dying and dead away to the hospital, care home and hospice, and after death to the euphemistically named Chapel of Rest. Audiences nearly always identify with this kind of experience – although perhaps not always in quite these, it has to be said, rather clinical terms.

· I connected with your conclusion that people are feeling emotionally unsatisfied with funerals post World Wars. I’ve been fortunate to have experienced the very off hands approach and the more hands-on approach: my gran was brought back to the family home for a wake, this is the first time I saw a dead person and I remember helping make sandwiches and meeting people who came to pay their respects for the few days before the funeral. Because of this, I felt more emotionally complete compared to the former. You mention that there is a turning of the tide to the hands-off approach, how far do you think this may go before the pendulum swings back again?

On a personal level, as I mentioned earlier, one of my formative experiences was attending a funeral which represented the worst of the typical British late twentieth-century send-off: rushed, impersonal, and denial of the real sadness of loss. This experience inspired my efforts to ensure that as a society we move right away from this kind of ‘hands off’ approach to death. With my academic hat on, however, I think you’re probably right – historically we do rather seem to go through these cycles of invention, rejection then reinvention (in slightly different clothes) of ritualised expressions of grief and loss. As I discuss in the book, I can only see that stopping if and when humanity acquires immortality – at which point ‘living’ and ‘dying’ mean very different things anyway.

Is there an aspect from the past traditions of death and burials you would like to see a re-emergence of?

Not so much any particular custom, as the underlying concept – which I think people in the past intuitively understood – that grief is actually about refiguring the ‘continuing bond’ between oneself and the dead person. For much of the twentieth century – courtesy largely of Sigmund Freud – we’ve instead had this bizarre, and frankly cruel notion that to ‘recover’ from a bereavement is to reach a point where it’s almost as if the deceased never existed. It’s great therefore to see the re-emergence of spaces – including, in a twenty-first century twist, digital spaces – where one can carry on that relationship with dead loved ones.

· Remembrance Day is mentioned in your work as an example of the present remembering the dead. The debate comes round every November of whether commemorating Remembrance is still relevant now that the World War generations are passing on. Do you think Remembrance will cease to be remembered in the coming century?

Sort of. Memory, I think, works in half-lives; although the actual World War generations with their first-hand memories are now rapidly passing on, something of those memories lives on in their children and even in my own generation, their grandchildren. Although clearly I wasn’t around during the war(!), I grew up hearing about it from my grandparents who were, so it’s a part of me albeit at second remove. So I think my generation at least might keep on observing Remembrance in some form, even if just as a way of keeping in touch with our own grandparents.

· You have mentioned that you have always wanted to write this book, how does it feel to have accomplished this goal and been able to hold the physical book in your hands?

To me the physical book in my hands represents a hectic, happy time in my life: while writing it I also got a job I’d wanted for years and moved house, all in just a few months. None of this would have happened without all the support from my wonderful family and friends; in particular my husband Andy, who supplied endless toasted bagels and mugs of coffee (see earlier question), listened to me whinge and (not entirely joking here!) reminded me to wash.

· Your book focuses on the UK’s traditions of death and burial, do you think you would ever write a sequel about other countries traditions of death and burials? Such as, the sky burials of the Mongolians, the turning of the bones of Madagascar, New Orleans Jazz funerals etc.

A whole world of funeral customs… where to start?! It just shows how people are so endlessly, defiantly creative in the cold face of mortality, and that’s what I really wanted to celebrate in the book.

Lastly:

· Are you working on any future books that are articles at the moment?

I’m working on a book about Victorian funeral customs, which is (sort of) the book of my PhD topic. Meanwhile Stuart and I are also writing up our findings from the Grave Communications project so far.

· How can we follow your progress?

https://independent.academia.edu/HelenFrisby is the best place to find me online; I’m also on https://speakernet.co.uk if anyone wants me to come and do a talk for their group or event.

The Year Without Summer by Guinevere Glasfurd Book Review

Image from Goodreads

Publisher: John Murry Press, Two Roads

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publish Date: 6 February 2020

Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

A truly wonderful book that moves the heartstrings and leads you to question the climate issue of the present. Glasfurd has chosen to write a historical novel about the year known as, the Year Without Summer: 1816. In the Sumbawa Islands, Indonesia, Mount Tambora stood at14,100 feet but the 1815 eruption reduce its hight to 9,350 feet while also killing over 71,000 people and throwing so much ash into the atmosphere it leads 1816 to be known as a year without summer. Crops failed, livestock died and famine became widespread in North America and Europe. The eruption of Mount Tambora was a super-colossal explosion, the worst in modern times with the eruption of Krakatoa coming in second.

It is during this year that Glasfurd has written 6 stories, the majority based on living persons, that show how the year without summer affected their lives. Starting with the most famous; Mary Shelly. Mary during 1816 is traveling with her future husband Percy Shelly and Claire Clairmont to meet with poet Lord Byron and his doctor, Polidori, in Switzerland. This meeting in Switzerland leads to one of the literature greatest moments. The “incessant rainfall” and unusual summer would led to a competition over ghost stories that would see the birth of Frankenstein. Next is the famous artist John Constable who saw his life change drastically in 1816 due to bereavement, marriage, and painting. Sarah Hobbs is much less known. In real life, she was the only woman condemned to hang for the Ely and Littleport riots of 1816 but her sentence was commuted. The riots concerned farmers, grain costs and unemployment. Although the issue was bubbling away on the back burner the 1816 crop failure acted as the spark that led to the riot. In the book, Sarah mimics real Sarah’s life but it is very loose. Cleverly, Glasfurd doesn’t just concern herself with 1816 she also writs a narrative based on the account of the Captain of the Benares. In this narrative the ship’s Doctor, Henry, records his mission first, to discover the cause of a sound, believing it to be pirates, to then discover the immediate aftermath of the Mount Tambora’s eruption. This account is quite graphic and heart-wrenching! Next a fictional character and narrative. An American Preacher settled in Vermont, Charles Whitlock, stands firm and convinces his flock of farmers to remain and weather the storm when they were preparing to leave, thereby leading to disastrous consequences. And Lastly, Hope Peter, a returning soldier from the Napoleonic Wars who finds the remains of his home.

All six narratives interested me deeply, I know from reading some other reviewers’ reviews that they could have done without some and could have had more of others, but I felt that all the narratives played a part in what the author ultimately wanted to achieve. An example of what a natural disaster, that has an enormous effect on climate change, can do to all types of people at different stations and situations. It wasn’t until recently that 1816 could be connected as a consequence of the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 and that the 1 to 2 degree chill effect had impacted the world through famine, politics and social unrest. A lot of parallels can be drawn from 1816 and today – but as the author questions, what does this knowledge give us?

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an E-ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Book Signing Event – A Light in the Depths by Christoper C. Fuchs

One More Page Books in Arlington VA, hosted Christopher C. Fuchs, author of the Earthpillar Novels, for a book signing event to promote his newly released novel A Light in the Depths yesterday (8th February 2020).

A Light in the Depths is the second prequel novel to Fuchs’s debut novel Lords of Deception and concludes Rildning’s journey. You can read my full review of A Light in the Depths here

A Light in the Depths can be ordered at Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Nobles as well as your local book shop with the ISBN:

eBook: 978-1-946883-05-6
Paperback: 978-1-946883-04-9
Hardback: 978-1-946883-13-1

A Light in the Depths by Christopher C. Fuchs Review

Image from www.earthpillarbooks.com

Publish Date 8 Feb 2020

Star Rating 5/5

Fuchs is back, with a powerful follow up to that cliff-hanger he left us with! A Light in the Depths is the second and final part of Rildning’s story which began in The Depths of Redemption. Unlike The Depths of Redemption Fuchs has changed his writing style back to character point of view charters, letting us get inside the minds of his vast cast.

The last book left us with the fall of Nalembalen and Rildning’s journal filled with New World secrets falling into the hands of the enemy. This book begins a year after the fall. The Gallerlanders still won’t use horses and metal leaving them vulnerable, they have won some victories but not enough. There is one last meaningful location left to the Gallerlanders, Gilgalem, and our heroes flee to it to prepare its defenses but allies are needed. Envoys are sent off in winter to potential allies, hoping to make common cause. Unfortunately, the enemy who are flowing across the New World have the same idea, making the Gallerlanders potential allies into their vassal-kings. Add to the mix: heart-rendering deaths, many a battle and seeing the great cities of Eglamour and Rachard be birthed and grown, The Light in the Depths becomes a book just can’t be put down, even for toilet breaks.

Unfortunately, I can’t go into more story without going into spoilers, so I will leave it here. However, I can do shout out to some of my favorite elements within this book. Hilsingor of Ned Gollen, Marshal of the Frontier Corps of Pemonia. is a fantastic character and a lover of wine, cheeses, and strategy, a person I could get along with in real life and gives off echoes of Sun Tzu. Then, there is a wolf among the sheep, an enemy operative who sits on the psychotic scale who successfully causes chaos from within while perfecting the perfect stick eye at Rildning. The Naren-Dra are impressive, I picture them as the Gods sitting in Olympia, watching the mortals below and messing with their life’s when they seem fit or come too close. Next, is a Macavalian Raffen vassal-king, willing to do whatever is needed regardless of what others think. Throughout, we are left to guess whether his surrender and adoption into the Brintilian Empire is sincere. But the biggest shout out goes to the creepy jailer of the Nyden. A sweet blind jailer who offers comfort in pitch dark cells only to help you by stabbing your eyes out through the cells’ keyhole. His scene was writing soo well mimicking gothic horror that it leaked into my nightmares. After all, what would you need your eyes for, in the dark, he was just helping…

A lot happened in this book, it’s well-paced and thoroughly engaging. It also, left a lot of room for future books, which is exciting. I would love to spend more time with the Naren-Dra and the Macavalian Raffen vassal-king. The only disappointing part: this book marks the end of Fuchs’s rapid release of books. Now comes the long wait…. luckily, I hear through the grapevine Fuchs will be publishing two new novelettes: Arcodum and The feuding Tower, this year to help tie us over until the next big book. If you haven’t already subscribe to the Earthpillar website, www.earthpillarbooks.com. By doing so, you get not just all the news about the upcoming releases, you also get Fuchs other two novelettes for free, The Revolution Machine and The Fourth Messenger. But ultimately, Christopher C. Fuchs write faster!

Thank you to Loremark Publishing for an E-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

February Author of the Month: DW Gillespie

Image from Goodreads

This month I present to you: DW Gillespie, winner of the MacDougle Award in 2002, lover of all things horror, sci-fi and supernatural and a master of suspense! Gillespie was a new find for me last year and the book that introduced me to him was One by One, a chilling haunted house tale complete with a recently moved in family and creepy stick men drawings. Needless to say, he has a fan for life. So let’s get to know him:

What was your favorite childhood book?

Do videogame instruction manuals count? Do people even remember those at this point?

Seriously though, I really loved short stories as a kid, and there were always tons of scary story collections to choose from. I also vividly remember heading to the same section of the library in grade school to check out all the classic monster books. No clue if those things even exist anymore, but there were these really great series of books that had tons of pictures of the old Universal monsters, King Kong, Godzilla, all that stuff. Whenever we were supposed to be reading something constructive, I was back in that corner rotting my brain.

You have stated that the first story you wrote was in second grade and involved monsters wreaking havoc on an unsuspecting victim. Can you tell us more about it and if you have ever considered fleshing or rewriting it into a novel?

There’s probably not a ton of meat on those bones, to be honest. I don’t remember all the details but one story ended with my dad shooting Frankenstein in the head with a shotgun. Probably not enough to work with be honest.

I will say that I do enjoy going back to my earlier stories from my 20s and cannibalizing those stories. Most of them were not very good in terms of character or perspective, but there were lots of good ideas in them. My current work in progress is actually based on an unfinished story from about a decade ago.

What was the first horror book or short story you read that truly sent shivers up your spin and had you keeping the lights on?

I jumped right into some pretty heavy stuff once I started reading novels. I think Pet Semetary was my first Stephen King book, which is pretty wild to think about now. I was almost too young for some of that horror to really work on me though. It’s a lot scarier now that I’m a parent.

I think one of the first short stories that stuck with me was Harold from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Looking back now, those stories were mostly very simple, but I think that’s what made them work so well on kids. You just had a basic story, a very creepy picture, and your imagination filled in the rest. The ending of that one in particular is excellent…I don’t remember the exact words, but it’s something about Harold stretching human skin out to dry. Just perfect.

What is your favorite book now?

It definitely changes depending on what I’m into at the moment. I just read Boy’s Life by McCammon, which is just as fantastic as I’d heard. Definitely shot into my top ten instantly. I love books like that, things that sort of defy classification or genre. It was less of a horror book and more of a slice of someone’s life and the history of a town.

I’m also kind of obsessed by A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin. It’s a deceptively simple book with so much depth hidden there.

As a horror writer, what is Halloween like in your house?

It’s a blast. I’m lucky that my wife and kids are both really into it. We almost always end up building a fire in the back yard and sit around, taking turns telling stories. I have aspirations to write a short story collection for kids at some point, and if I do, it will almost certainly include a frame story about a family sitting around a fire.

Who has been a main influence in your writing?

It’s kind of cliché to say, but it’s pretty much everyone. It would take forever to make a real list, but off the top of my head, I’d say the following people are huge influences on my imagination:

Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, John Carpenter, Clive Barker, Guillermo Del Toro, John Steinbeck, Cormac MacCarthy, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, Gillian Flynn, Junji Ito, and on and on…

Do you have any mascots or rituals to your writing?

The biggest ritual for me is trying to find a theme song of the book I’m working on. It’s become such a vital part of the process for me. I spend a ton of time in my car driving to and from work, so if I can find a song that captures the mood of a book I’m working on, I’ll just listen to it over and over again. It really helps me envision scenes, and its useful for me work through any sticking points I might have.

What are you currently reading?

I just got a few new Junji Ito collections for my birthday. I just love his work, mainly because it’s so insanely different from mine. I really enjoy spending time in worlds that I could never up with on my own.

One By One:

Image from Goodreads

How did the story of One by One first come to you?

I wish I could say there was some really cool story about it, but this one just sort of popped into my head one day. It took some work to flesh out the idea, specifically bringing the characters and the house to life, but the central hook was definitely the seed that everything grew from. The idea of a family finding a picture of themselves hidden away in an old house…that was an concept that I just knew I had to run with.

There is something creepy about stick people and having them on the book cover first drew me in. Why do you think stickmen are unsettling?

I think it’s all about finding things in places where they shouldn’t be. A child’s drawing itself isn’t super creepy, but a child’s drawing hidden under old wallpaper is pretty damn chilling. I always love fiction that deals with those impossible, out of place things.

The house creates a beautiful atmosphere for the story. I could never stay in a bedroom that had windows that look out into a laundry room for fear of shadows crossing the curtains! Did you ever live near a house that inspired it or rented one for a vacation?

I’d say about 90% of the house as described in the book is taken directly from a house I lived in when I was in high school. There were a few details that I created, but most of the big ones were all real. The pool, the bedroom windows, the upstairs crawlspace, all of it was real.

Alice’s bedroom was directly inspired by my own, and I really did have windows that looked into a different room. The whole house was just oddly arranged, and it had been built onto several times over the years. It made it feel like a small scale Winchester Mystery House.

After reading this book, I talked the ear off of my husband about it. We had just moved into our first home and as revenge, he pulled a prank on me by drawing stick people on the wallpaper. Any pranksters in your family that like to make your work come alive?

First off, that’s such a great story! I love to hear when one of my books has escaped into the real world, so to speak.

My kids definitely know all about the basic plots of my books. My son in particular wants to hear all about them, and we talk through them, even in the early stages of the books while I’m still working things out. Neither of my kids have tried to prank us like that though…honestly, I don’t want to give them any ideas!

I feel we all know someone like Debra and Frank, why do you think Frank just couldn’t settle?

I love Frank, because you’re right, most everyone knows someone like that. He’s a schemer, but not in a bad way. He’s just the type of guy who gets genuinely excited about bad ideas, and his excitement rubs off on his family. They’re excited too!

I think most people can relate to them, just because the grind of being an adult is so boring. Even if we don’t admit it, I think most of us dream a little bit about jumping into something crazy, if for no other reason than to just escape the feeling of everything being so safe all the time.

Kudos, on the plot twist! Since the appearance of Walker with his mental problems, it got creepier and creepier. His last scene was particularly disturbing. Were his endsceen and demise always set in stone?

I had that final image of Walker in my mind relatively early on, so I worked back from that to make it work. A lot of the details changed, but I’m still in love with that image of him tapping on the glass, almost politely asking to be let in. Its almost an inversion of the movie trope of the bad guy returning for one last, crazy action sequence. I think in a sillier story, Walker and Frank might have had one last fight where Walker gets thrown into the pool or something like that. This is much darker than that, much more stark.

The epilogue tied everything up in the end nicely did you ever consider leaving it out to put us, poor readers, into purgatory?

Well, going back to the previous question, I knew I wanted to hit the audience with the surprise and horror of seeing Walker at the window. Then, with a hard cut away from the action, I wanted to give them a chance to breathe before they realized what actually happened that night. The epilogue is just a nice chance to let the story relax and settle after that shock.

Did you edit anything out of the book?

There weren’t any big plot threads or branches that had to be cut, beyond just the usual trimming. It’s a lean story, and I wanted to stay focused on Alice’s point of view.

I’m convinced One by One would make an amazing movie and reading through Goodreads review comments I’m not the only one. If the opportunity came along who do you see acting which character?

I certainly agree! I’m not really up on too many child actors, but I think you could probably age Alice up a bit for a movie. Someone like Millie Bobby Brown would be great, but even she’s probably too old at this point.

Maybe, if I’m lucky, there will be more to talk about on that front at some point!

Where is the best place to get ahold of One by One?

It’s available wherever books are sold, including Amazon of course.

Lastly:

What are you currently working on?

Three projects up in the air at the moment. I have my first middle-grade novel being read by publishers as we speak. I really hope to have some news on it soon, mainly just because I want to talk more about it. It’s a great, simple hook that I don’t want to say too much about until it’s signed.

I also just finished the first big round of edits on my next horror novel, tentatively titled The Mill. It’s the most gruesome book I’ve ever written, and a big change from my usual, more quiet horror. Hopefully, they’ll be some news in early 2020.

And finally, I’m in the early stages of yet another book. It’s another great hook, and I can’t wait to say more about it.

How can we follow you and stay in touch?

www.dwgillespie.com

www.facebook.com/dw.gillespie

www.twitter.con/dw_gillespie

We Are Monsters – Brian Kirk Book Review

Cover Image from Goodreads

Star Rating 5/5

Release Date 16 January 2020

I loved this book, the second half more than the first though the first is needed to set the stage. Alex is a Psychiatric Doctor working in an asylum and is being groomed to become the next Director of the hospital by his mentor and current director. However, unbeknown to Alex’s mentor, their treatment methods differ greatly. Alex’s mentor believes in holistic treatment with antipsychotic drugs used only when necessary whereas Alex believes heavily in antipsychotics, to the point he may have secretly created an antipsychotic that can cure schizophrenia. Unfortunately, while the antipsychotic works fine animals, the formula needs to be adjusted to work on humans. Luckily Alex has a schizophrenic brother and a whole hospital full of patients to use as test subjects or perhaps just one criminally insane serial killer.

The book focuses more on questioning, what is sanity? as we learn that, due to past traumas doctors are not quite sane themselves. Also, explored is how people with mental disorders ought to be treated – holistically or with mind-numbing drugs? As I previously said I prefer the second half of the book where we go down the rabbit hole of the mind of the insane or perhaps, a living Salvador Dali painting. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to explore these issues in a fictional way or for anyone who wants to escape into madness for a few hours.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher Flame Tree Press, for an advanced electronic readers copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau Book Review

Image from Goodreads

Star Rating 4/5

Publish Date 16 January 2020

The book cover of Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau was the first thing that captured my attention. With a figure, I first assumed falling through the air it immediately invoked thoughts of Alice in Wonderland. This was helped along with silhouettes of the tops of circus tents I was sure this would be a book for me. The description went on to explain that the book is a historical fiction mystery involving the hedonism of Coney Island in 1911, one of America’s richest families and a web of deceit and lies as well as a few dead bodies.

I don’t know much about Coney Island apart from it being an amusement park playground mixed with nature’s oddities. But I soon learned that Dreamland was one of three amusement parks and unfortunately was destroyed by fire and was never rebuilt. The story is set in the final months before this fateful fire happened. A leading family of New York is holidaying in Coney Island at the request of a potential fiancée to one of the girls. It is not a destination the family would normally choose but the potential suitor is a rival in fortune to them and this marriage is a priority, therefore the family will dance to any tune the eccentric suitor wishes. In the middle of all this is Penny, a daughter of the leading family who wants to distance herself from the family and be an independent woman. She’s only here at her sister’s request and her family’s threats. However, Coney Island provides more freedom than she would have expected and the weeks she spends there, change her from the inside out. Soon bodies start to appear all over Coney Island, there is a murderer among them, but how close?

I enjoyed this book even though I was expecting a lot more hedonism and nature’s oddities from the time. More of an illusion I guess? However, Coney Island was simply the backdrop to the story and not the story. This does not diminish the actual story as the book is well written, with greatly developed characters and a very enjoyable read. It moves at a good pace and having put the book down I wanted to pick it back up again. Unfortunately, life kept getting in the way.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for an advanced electronic reader’s copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Two Amazing Historic Fiction Books Out Today: The Other Bennet Sister and The Lady of the Ravens

Today, 9 January 2020 marks not only my best friend’s birthday (Happy Birthday Amy!) It also marks the release date of two amazing Historic Fiction books that I devoured within days of receiving them. First up:

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow

Image copied from Goodreads

Star Rating: 5 Stars

I read this book during the festive season and it fitted in perfectly! A book about not fitting in, being an underdog, becoming a swan and true love, while under a blanket with a cup of cocoa and the Christmas tree lights twinkling set a romantic atmosphere.

The title says it all, The Other Bennet Sister, is the story of the least popular and outgoing Bennet sister from Jane Austin’s’: Pride and Prejudice. If you’ve been following my blog then you’ll know underdogs are my kryptonite! Until this book, I hadn’t spared a thought for Mary. She was always in her charismatic and beautiful siblings’ shadow and this is how the book starts. The first part is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from Mary’s point of view and we discover a lonely character who has distanced herself and tries too hard to have her own qualities to stand upon. There is a beautiful heartbreaking sentence in this part of the book that describes it perfectly.

“Her hard work and effort had brought her the expertise she longed for, but it had been achieved at the cost of a simple enjoyment she once loved” Kindle Location 209.

This quote is appealing as I think we all have felt overshadowed and taken something we loved to such an extent that we lose sight of why we loved it to begin with. In this part, we also learn about the approval Mary desperately wishes for from her parents and how their marriage destroyed Mr. Bennet’s ability to bond with the younger girls and ultimately was to shape Mary’s view on marriage. Thus the book is set for Mary to learn about other marriages and to decide which model she believes to be the best.

The middle part is consumed with the Collins’ marriage. Poor Mary and Mr. Collins find friendship only to have Charlotte Lucas become jealous. Charlotte got my heckles up in this book, I was rooting for Mary to become Mrs. Collins especially as Collins’ depiction in this novel is so loving and Charlotte’s so cold.

The last part is where the novel comes into its own. Mary becomes a swan and emerges from her shell. So much so that she becomes caught in a love triangle. One suitor is steady and loving while the other is exciting and impulsive reminding the reader of echos of Darcy and Wickham. Luckily, Mary’s aunt has sound advice.

“The man who declared his affections most readily is not necessarily the man who feels them most profoundly.” Kindle Location 5237.

But, does Mary listen?

A truly wonderfully written tale of the novel Pride and Prejudice and I would highly recommend it.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an E-ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Lady of the Ravens by Joanna Hickson

Image copied from Goodreads

Star Rating: 4 Stars 

The Lady of the Ravens is a great idea for a book and I really enjoyed reading it. I’ve long been a fan of the Tudor Historical Fiction genre and got excited when I came across this book. The legend of the Ravens of the Tower is famous: it is believed that the Ravens are the guardians of the Tower of London. As long as the Tower of London stands so will the rule of the kingdom. The legend is so important that the Ravens are still looked after in the tower to this day and you can visit them. They have their own carers who look to their every need and to date they have never left the tower.

This legend is weaved into this novel. King Henry VII has won the throne of England, the country is trying to heal itself and soldiers don’t like ravens. We follow Lady Joan Gildford nee. Vaux from her time serving Princess Elizabeth of York after King Henry VII’s victory, to the alter and beyond to when she rises to the position of Maid of Honor. Joan is the Lady of the Ravens. She is enchanted by them and is a supporter of their survival and comfort. She knows of the Raven legend and the soldier’s dislike of them. They are used as target practice for archers and Joan makes sure that their bad opinions of them are changed. Beautifully, the ravens near misses coincide with troubles on King Henry VII’s throne, thus reinforcing the legend.

I’ve given this novel 4 stars as I felt some storylines felt incomplete and brushed over important issues. One of King Henry VII’s biggest threats was the presence of Perkin Warbeck, the Pretender. We don’t meet him in the book, he is only ever talked about yet he is talked about at great length. I expected more from this storyline as there was a lot of potential in the way this book is written; but the second half of his story, especially the capture, imprisonment, and execution was more of a footnote. The same can be said for Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick. My other gripe with the novel is that it ended too soon. Prince Arthur and Queen Elizabeth were still alive at the end of the novel but Joan’s life became more dramatic after their deaths. Joan went to France with Princess Mary for her marriage to the King, she was part of King Henry the VIII’s great matter and she married a second time, to a youth she looked after in the novel. Perhaps a sequel to the book is coming… I hope so for there are many stories still to go and I’m very found of Joan and the Ravens.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an E-ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Toddler’s Christmas Books

There are so many fun Christmas books for toddlers at this time of year! I’ve rounded up my tot’s favorites:

The Night Before Christmas: A Bedtime Shadow Book by Clement C. Moore, Illustrations by Martha Day Zschock

The classic tale presented in a unique way! This The Night Before Christmas is a shadow book, which means you need to be tucked up in bed with a flashlight. Each illustration is designed for you to shine a flashlight through creating a shadow on the bedroom wall. It’s supposed to be for children between 4 and 9 but my tot loves it and I love trying to focus the light right while the peanut gallery heckles :D. In my family, it’s a top winner!

Christmas: Felt Play by Image That Group Ltd

Such a fun and interactive book! My tot and I love settling down and getting out the 20 felt play pieces and arranging them in the 5 Christmas play scenes. A very loose story flows throughout but the funs the felts!

The Christmas Story by Igloo Books Ltd

The Christian story of the birth of the baby Jesus with 8 magical sounds. We picked this book up at the beginning of the month and tot still loves pressing though all the sounds…sometimes mummy doesn’t read fast enough.

The Story Orchestra: The Nutcracker Illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle

Tot got this book last Christmas. It has been a favorite all year round. but it comes into its own on since the start of December. On each page, you need to find the musical note symbol. When pressed them you can hear Tchaikovsky’s music following with the classic tale of the Nutcracker. A must-have book if you don’t have it yet.

December Author of the Month: Charlie N. Holmberg

Author Photo Provided by Charlie N. Holmberg

This article contains spoilers for The Fifth Doll

I am proud to present the fantastic Charlie N. Holmberg as my Author of the Month for December. This amazing fantasy author is best known for The Paper Magician series but the first book I read of hers and fell in love with was The Fifth Doll.

Let’s learn a bit about you!

What book would you say defines your childhood and which book would you say defines you now?

  • My favorite books as a kid were the Goosebumps books and the American Girl books (even though I never owned an American Girl doll). As an adult, I was shaped a lot by epic fantasy. I think the most influential was Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson.

Which was the first book to make you cry and which was the first to make you laugh?

  • I’m not sure which title first brought me to tears, but the first book to make me UGLY cry? Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier. I was all snot and tears for that one. I’m not sure on laughter either, but it could have been Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.

How long have you been writing?

  • I started writing when I was 13, so… 18 years?

What’s the funniest typo you’ve ever written then caught yourself?

  • I’ve accidentally dropped profanity into books where I didn’t mean to. I also have a weird thing where I type “back” when I mean “bag.” All. The. Time.

Do you have a writing mascot or ritual?

  • Not particularly? I write in the mornings after my kids go to school, Monday through Friday. I’m very disciplined about it.

How do you handle deadlines and priorities?

  • I just do them. I know that’s a weird answer, but it’s how I’m wired. I have never once missed a deadline.

Do you use any writer’s apps and if so are there any you would recommend?

  • I don’t. Just me, my brain, and Microsoft Word.

The Fifth Doll is a favorite of mine, especially because I have an undergraduate degree in Philosophy and so many elements of the novel deal with issues that were in my course. I have been known to use the book as an illustration in arguments similar to The Matrix, red or blue pill. With that being said I’d like to quiz you about this novel.

Book Cover Image supplied by Charlie N. Holmberg

How did the idea for the novel first come to you?

  • So I was preparing a class on magic systems for a local conference, and I wanted to get the attendees to think outside the box and create a magic system of their own. I was walking around my house, writing down random things I saw—forks, thread, newspapers—so that I could have the class come up with magic revolving around them. I reached the shelf that had my matryoshka dolls on them and paused. Magical matryoshka dolls… that sparked something in me. Needless to say, I kept that one for myself!

What research did you do for the book?

  • A lot of late 18th-century Russian research. Most of the book is quasi-Russia, so I had some leeway, but I had to research some stuff about relevant tzars and how marriage was handled, clothing, food, etc. I also revisited Freudian psychology, since that has some influence in the novel as well.

Did you edit anything out of the book?

  • Nothing major. Not that I can recall.

A room of villager nesting dolls is a terrifying image, what would you do if you found a room filled with nesting dolls of people you know, would you open one?

  • Oh, totally. That would be a true WTF moment. Though I would be terrified of getting caught.

In Matrona’s position would you fight being given stewardship?

  • You know . . . I’m not totally sure I would. I would probably 100% play along until I figured out for sure what was going on, and then make a judgment and potentially a secret betrayal, ha.

At the end of the book, we are confronted with the concept of freedom and if it is truly desirable. Do you think true freedom is desirable?

  • True freedom is always desirable. The freedom Matrona achieves, not so much.

Which would you choose, the world within the dolls or the real one?

  • I would probably choose to stay in the dolls! (SPOILER>) The reality Matrona takes everyone into is a winter- and war-ridden one. They have literally nothing. It’s going to be CRAZY HARD to make a life and a living, especially in the throws of WWI. If I had to choose between those two worlds, I would choose the nice sunny one, thank you very much.

Have you considered writing a sequel or prequel to the novel? If so I wish to pre-order.

  • Considered? Briefly. Will I write one? No. Sorry!

Lastly

What are you working on at the moment?

  • I am working on SO MANY THINGS. I’m finishing up my Spellbreaker duology, the first book of which will release in fall 2020. I also have a high fantasy duology I’m working on with Caitlyn McFarland (author of the Dragonsworn series). Then I have a book called STAR MOTHER that I’ll be doing my first round of edits on soon (from my alpha readers—haven’t sold that one yet!).

How can we follow you?

  • Instagram: @cnholmberg
  • Twitter: @cnholmberg
  • Facebook: @cnholmberg
  • Website: charlienholmberg.com
  • Amazon: https://amzn.to/2CzffcW
  • Goodreads: https://bit.ly/36Zfaxe

Book Review: Let’s Be Weird Together by Brooke Barker and Boaz Frankel

Image from Goodreads

Star Rating: 3 Stars

When I first came across this book I thought this was the book for me and my husband. I pictured myself running up to him and making him look at the cartoon or passage I just read and us laughing together. I consider our relationship to be weird and we lovingly judge each other for it. So reading about another couple who are weird or weirder than us, was very compelling. What similarities did we have with each other, where my husband and I about to find out we are actually boring and normal?

The book was fun and was broken up with history stories and cartoons. All in all, I read it in one sit in and it flowed well. However, after reading it, I felt disappointed. The couple are cute and do, do weird things that people do in loving relationships but it felt too much like an inside joke between two people that I was peaking into. I’m sure if I wrote this book with my husband they would be saying the same. The beauty of a weird relationship is that it’s between two people and trying to explain it to everyone else means it doesn’t quite translate.

With all being said and done, this isn’t a bad book. It’s a book that you would read if you were in a situation where you forgot your current book and wanted something light to read.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me an Electronic Advanced Readers Copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Depths of Redemption by Christopher C. Fuchs Review

Spoiler Warning – There are spoilers in this article about The Depths of Redemption

The Depths of Redemption is the second published novel by Christopher C. Fuchs. It is the first installment in a two-part prequel to his debut novel: Lords of Deception. It must be noted that this novel deviates from Lords of Deception as the main character is new to the reader, as well as his territory and adventure. This decision to explore the universe by spreading out histories and characters is refreshing and reminiscent of Terry Pratchett’s’ Discworld. A complaint I tend to have with authors who create universes is that once the main story has concluded the universe is forgotten. I much prefer to explore universes nooks and crannies!

This book is written in the first person, unlike the first novel which was written in character POV chapters. We begin with Arasemis and his pupil in the present looking at two ancient books that hold invaluable histories. One of the books is a journal and it is this journal that we dive 800 years into the past. The journal belongs to Rildning, a Colonial Knight who is undertaking an expedition to make an alliance between New Lorin of the Old World and the natives of the New World, Pemonia. They start off as a strong group of five however as they delve deeper into the New World, the New World begins picking them off and the true dark purpose of the expedition comes to light. Rildning, fight for survival in the unknown wilderness and his hope to find a greater meaning to his existence means he undergoes major character changes and becomes a prisoner of the natives. Luckily his changed character is enough to win the native’s trust but the Old World is coming for the New and a great army sits on the fringes of the native’s capital city. Unbeknown to all but a select few, the capital city is harboring a secret, one which could produce lasting peace or utter destruction. Rildnings’ journal, originally written to record the assignment of creating an alliance suddenly becomes a dangerous weapon, if the enemy ever got their hands on it.

Within the wilderness of the New World Fuchs has created a fantastical environment that is beautiful but when it becomes dark, it becomes dark! Not to mention a new language which as readers we begin to learn ourselves through the journal. The number of creative elements within this novel are staggering. Though judging by the debut novel, this is not surprising.

My only complaint is that I really like the character of Orren. Since he was so right about his speculations of the New World and stood a figure of ridicule for it. I would have loved to have seen him be proven right and explore the world he suspected existed. Unfortunately, I have to admit that a character cannot survive in a story just because I want him to be triumphant, his gentle soul had to depart to keep the story authentic. He could never have survived the dangers of this adventure no matter how true his heart was. I wish that he had lived but I like an author who’s not afraid to kill a character for the sake of the story. It hurt in a way George R. R. Martin specializes in….and he was only a tiny part of the book and his death was off-screen!

Lords of Redemption is out today: 8th December 2019. Get your copy now from Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes and Nobels or ISBN 978-1-946883-02-5 at your local bookshop.