Thursday, 12 April 2018

Toe Six Press

Toe Six



Things go in cycles. Come at you in waves. Here's something new that'll sweep you off your feet. Authors and readers, you should really check this out. 

I'm only here to make the introductions. 

Something's afoot. Meet Toe Six Press

Saturday, 7 April 2018

One Man's Opinion: MANHATTAN BEACH by JENNIFER EGAN


Manhattan Beach

‘She’d never been good at banter; it was like a skipping rope whose rhythm she couldn’t master enough to jump in with confidence.’

When I read The Keep by Jennifer Egan, I was so engaged with the textures and structures that I knew I’d be visiting her books again. Given that The Keep was never fully within my grasp in terms of understanding the whole, I didn’t have much of an idea of what to expect from Manhattan Beach.

It’s a very different book. More conventional in many ways, but no less gripping for that.

The central character is Anna. We meet her as a young girl as she visits a Gatsbyesque gangster with her father. The father/daughter relationship is clearly a very special and rather fragile one, the links between father and gangster are new and tentative. Though the early encounters with each of these people is fascinating and beautifully described, it took me a while to get to the pace and cadence of the story.  Sentences took me by surprise and the variation in points of view had me struggling to fully acclimatise. It’s not that I wasn’t enjoying things. In fact, it was quite the opposite. It was, perhaps, more that I found the landscape disorientating until I found my feet.  

Once I’d come to know Anna’s family (a mother who has given up on her dancing career and on many other aspects of her life in order to become a carer; Anna’s severely disabled sister who rarely speaks but steals many of the scenes in which she appears; her bagman of a father; and her errant aunt who makes a living from the men she connects with) everything settled down. Like Anna, who will later find great insight from fumbling around in the darkness of the underwater world, I was able to find my way through the twists and turns with delight and navigate land and sea as if a natural.

The flesh on the bones of the story is rich and delicious. It offers great insights into a world at a different time. There’s a war on. Many of New York’s men have gone to fight and many of those remaining are about to leave. Women are finding new roles as necessity gives birth to invention without eliminating prejudice or changing attitudes. Similarly with race, equality is available only in small, practically invisible measures. There are barriers everywhere for Anna to overcome, but she’s strong and wise and determined.

As well as an insight into wartime New York, we get a great view into life in the Merchant Navy. As Anna’s aunt mentions, the sailors involved count among the overlooked heroes and from the stories we get to witness, any stripes they earned cannot be begrudged.

The gangland element of this tale is mysterious and fascinating. Dexter Styles is our eyepiece. He has risen through the ranks of the mob and married into power and society until he is on the verge of being completely legitimate. He has an uncanny way of understanding people and situations. He sees the world with clarity and certainty. He’s an adorable bad guy. His grip on the world only begins to loosen as a grown-up Anna re-enters his orbit.   

Overall, this one’s a real joy. I didn’t want it to finish and when I was inside I was totally submerged in Egan’s creation. I felt like I was there and could cut loose from reality and drift like a raft upon the ocean at any point in time simply by opening the pages at my bookmark and sailing on.

Is this the perfect read? Of course not. There are flaws. Where the scenes on the shipyards, of the diving and of life at sea appear to be deeply researched (all explanations being deftly handled), the world of the gangster seems to be less understood and I think I’d have liked a more solid grounding here. The early stages do take some orientation. There are a number of coincidences in terms of the plot that are a little too convenient if you want to split hairs.

As far as I’m concerned, any imperfections are easily overlooked. Jennifer Egan’s style is superb whether she’s working with large or fine brushes. It’s her insight into her characters that ultimately wins out. Her ability to describe the impossible or unreachable with poetic similes or slices of magic is wonderful. Her trump card, I reckon, is her ability to throw her human creations into the world and then be able to describe every one of their reactions. This ability to empathise to such depth within fiction is a rare thing. She may even have to wear a protective suit to get right down to those levels. I felt it most when she was dealing with loss, a recurring theme throughout the novel. That’s when the delicate touch can be most keenly felt. And now I’ve come to the journey’s end, I’m experiencing my own sense of loss. But, never mind:

‘It was all still there, everything he’d left behind. It’s vanishing had only been a trick.’

Absolutely loved this read. Go and escape.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Southsiders: The Collected Jesse Garon Novels

SOUTHSIDERS

Four novels, four terrific tales. Follow the adventures of the young Jesse Garon as he struggles to survive after being left home alone.

From Amazon US, UK, Australia, Canada and Germany 

and more widely available here.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Dancing With Myself: KAREN HARPER interviews KAREN HARPER

https://www.amazon.com/Shallow-Grave-South-Shores-Harper/dp/0778331199
SHALLOW GRAVE

ME:  You are definitely a survivor in the ever-changing publishing world.  Published since 1982 with over 70 novels?  So how old are you? 

AUTHOR:  I don’t answer that question, and if I did, it would be fiction.  I’ll just say I am in the baby-boomer category. I taught two years at Ohio State (good-old Freshman English) and 15 years of high school English before I began to write full time both contemporary suspense and historical novels. 

ME:  Don’t you need a split personality for that? 

AUTHOR:  It does take a brain transplant to switch from one genre and era to the other, but I love doing both.  The historicals about real British women take more research, but each of my suspense novels hinge on something that takes background reading.  I’m currently researching cryonics and butterflies—yes, there is a link.  I guess, even in writing entertaining fiction, I’m still trying to teach about interesting things. 

ME:  Since this is an interview, do you interview your characters before you start to write a book?  I know some writer friends who do that. 

AUTHOR:  I used to write bios of my main characters, but I have learned to let them “grow as I go”—that is, develop and speak and come alive on the page.  Likewise, I let the plots develop as I write much more than I used to.  It probably drives my editors crazy when I hand in the required proposal and tell them halfway through it, and this is what might happen…maybe this is how it will end. Of course, with the historicals, I stick to what actually happened in the lives of some amazing women. 

ME:  So do you start with character? 

AUTHOR:  Actually, I start with a setting or location I know and love and then develop the story from there.  (I was honored to meet the famous British author P.D. James and was really excited to hear she started with place too.)  My current SOUTH SHORES SERIES is set mostly in South Florida where I lived for 30 winters.  I’ve used Appalachia and Amish Country, both locations I often visit.  My history ('her story') novels are usually set in either Tudor or Edwardian England. I’m a rabid Anglophile and have been to ‘Merrie Olde’ many times.  Have laptop, will travel! 


ME:  What are the benefits and drawbacks of a long writing career? 

AUTHOR:  Drawbacks--stamina and flexibility are needed.  Benefits:  I have made many friends among other writers, in various pub houses and in my longtime literary agency.  I’m blessed to have great editors, especially at this time.  I belong to some national writing organizations and some local, so that’s double-dipping with business and pleasure.  I have seen so many changes in publishing, but I must admit it’s much easier not to have to use a typewriter and not to have to schlep heavy manuscripts to the post office, then back and forth for revisions and proofreading.  Now, I just hit the ‘send’ key on my laptop.  As much time as it sometimes takes away from writing and research, it’s great to have a Facebook page and website to be able to more easily keep in touch with my readers.  I love to visit libraries for talks, also, and the photo of me with the tiger (a tiger is in SHALLOW GRAVE (US) story) was taken during such a talk.  Thanks to Sea Minor for this outreach opportunity!  


Friday, 23 February 2018

Dancing With Myself: YVONNE VENTRESCA interviews YVONNE VENTRESCA



1. This interview thing is a little awkward. What made you think this was a good idea?



At least this time, there’s no intimidating tape recorder. And I can skip the hard questions, right? I’ll just exclude them, and no one will be the wiser. We’ll do eight – that’s a significant number for Ella in Black Flowers, White Lies, my young adult thriller (published by Sky Pony Press).



2. Why is the number eight significant?



Ella’s father was born on August 8th, and when she was eight years old, she could have died, but didn’t.



Here’s more about the story:



Her father died before she was born, but Ella Benton knows they have a connection that transcends the grave. Since her mother disapproves, she keeps her visits to the cemetery where he’s buried secret. But when Ella learns that her mother may have lied about how Dad died sixteen years ago, it’s clear she’s not the only one with secrets. New facts point to his death in a psychiatric hospital, not a car accident as Mom always claimed.



When a handprint much like the one Ella left on her father’s tombstone mysteriously appears on the bathroom mirror, she wonders if Dad is warning her of danger, as he did once before, or if someone’s playing unsettling tricks on her. But as the unexplained events become more frequent and more sinister, she finds herself terrified about who—or what—might harm her.



Soon the evidence points to someone new: Ella herself. What if, like Dad, she’s suffering from a mental breakdown? Ella desperately needs to find answers—no matter how disturbing the truth might be.



3. Why did you become a writer?



Growing up, I was an avid reader. There’s a certain joy to losing yourself in a good book. That love of story inspired me to write, because it allows me to recreate that experience for other readers.



In college, I double majored in computer science and English, but it wasn’t until after I graduated and left my corporate job that I decided to seriously focus on writing. I transitioned by writing about technology first, followed by more general nonfiction, but creating a novel was always my ultimate goal.



4. Why write fiction for young adults?



It’s an interesting age to write for and about, because the teenage years are filled with both potential and uncertainty. It’s also what I enjoy reading.



5. I’m an adult. Will I like your YA fiction?



That depends. If you enjoy other young adult novels, or you like reading stories set during the main character’s teen years, then it’s more likely you’ll like this story as well. There was an interesting article in The Atlantic in December about the general appeal of young adult novels.



6. Black Flowers, White Lies is set in Hoboken, NJ. Are all of the places mentioned real?



I used to live in Hoboken, and it was fun incorporating real restaurants, landmarks, and trivia into the story. Ella and her family live in the 77 River Street building, and I put her boyfriend in an apartment on Bloomfield. There are also scenes set at Stevens Institute of Technology, The Brass Rail, and the PATH station.



But I did fictionalize some aspects of the city, adding a cemetery, an animal shelter, and a bookstore on Newark Street. (The story was written before the arrival of Little City Books.)



By the way, I created a collection of my Hoboken photos on Pinterest which I referred back to as I was writing to remind me of specific setting details.



7. Are there themes that you think are common to all of your work?



I’m drawn to the idea of creating scary situations in our ordinary world. For example, in Black Flowers, White Lies, a series of unsettling events occur during an otherwise normal summer. This book also combines the frightening and the ordinary when Ella starts to question her perception of reality. When I wrote Pandemic (about a deadly contagious outbreak), it seemed natural to use the town where I live as the setting, because it underscored the idea that disasters could happen in regular places. I did rename the town in the novel, because it felt like bad karma to unleash deadly bird flu on my neighbors, even fictionally.



8. Last question: Tell us about the Black Flowers, White Lies cover. Did you have any input?



The cover images were inspired by the final book title. (It was originally called In the Dark, but my editor and I realized there were already several books out with that name, so we changed it.) I loved the cover concept, created by Sarah Brody for Sky Pony Press, since its inception. My small bit of input was to suggest more tombstones in the cemetery at the bottom of the cover, since an early version only had one. The paperback cover is essentially the same as the hardcover, with a different blurb and the addition of the award seal (the 2017 Independent Publisher’s Gold Medal for YA fiction) on the front.




That’s a wrap!


 




Excellent! If you’re interested in more information, you can learn about me and my books at YvonneVentresca.com.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

One Man's Opinion: MAY by MARIETTA MILES


May

May is told from two alternating angles.

In the first, we get to see her working alone to maintain holiday accommodation and preparing for the arrival of a big storm. She’s independent and isolated and her main social contacts come through the dope dealing that allows her to make ends meet. As the storm approaches and a couple of odd characters are hanging around her flats, we get to see May as a strong survivor who leaves in her wake the sense that she’s vulnerable and brittle.

The second strand tells us the story of May’s growing up. We get to watch her trip as she steps across the threshold into the world of the young adult and witness her parents allow her to crash without attempting to break her fall. The cruelty within her family is painfully cold and brutal, the hurt that May feels utterly palpable.

These elements fit together nicely as one builds with suspense and the other becomes so raw that it’s unbearable. The history helps to put the older May into perspective and adds to the building desire to see her make it through when the clouds darken, the winds get up and those hungry for her wares tire of sniffing at the door.

I really enjoyed this book, particularly in the section dealing with the troubles of her teenage years. The images are vivid and the swirling angst of the isolated adolescent spins hard and fast like the imminent storm itself. It’s the kind of book that can make you wince and cry and shout out at the injustice of it all. As chapters close and you enter quiet moments of reflection, you can be relieved that this is simply fiction in the way you might experience relief when realising that the nightmare you just had isn’t real after all.

If you’re a regular here, it’s likely that May is going to be right up your street. If that's not enough, another reason to recommend the read is that this book left me with the sense that Marietta Miles is going to write something truly amazing in the near future. You want to be on the journey with her when she arrives at the next stop, so get on board now and enjoy the scenery.   

Friday, 2 February 2018

Jeremy Corbyn Recommends...

We Know What We Are


'Great descriptions of people and power. Read it!' Jeremy Corbyn MP (Leader of the Labour Party)

When a woman takes on the vested interests in politics and football, a city is forced to take sides. We Know What We Are is a gritty contemporary political thriller, with a strong female protagonist who battles corruption, power and prejudice in a quest for a fairer society. It's set in a Midlands city.


A girl searches for her missing brother, a council leader fights to hold on to her principles and a chief executive battles to hold back the tide of cuts. Over them all looms a threatened football club and the sinister shadow of its chairman. As identities shift and allegiances are tested, how much will each of them risk to save the city, the club – and themselves?

The novel explores how our sense of ourselves affects our ability to make change, to determine the future for ourselves. 

'Authentic and wise. We Know What We Are (US) is proof that local politics is as ruthless as anything that happens in Westminster.' Erin Kelly (Broadchurch)