BOOK REVIEW FRIDAY – TWO NOVELS AND MANY NARCISSISTS

During January, I read two novels by two authors whose work I admire. One is a bestselling traditionally published author, and the other is an Indie Author who I’ve followed since the publication of her first novel.

Both have written novels set in the west – one in San Francisco and one in an anonymous location either in western Canada or western United States. And both populated their new releases with characters overflowing in narcissism. Not only are the antagonists under the illusion that the world revolves around them, but the protagonists also suffer from this affliction. And most importantly, both novels are captivating reads filled with tension created by a certain depravity within the human condition.

ChinaDollsChina Dolls by Lisa See – I was first introduced to Lisa See in 2009 when my sister-in-law lent me a copy of Peony in LoveSince reading that haunting love story, I’ve been a fan and read most all of her books. Her latest release China Dolls is no less captivating, but not quite as poetic as some of her other books.

Set in San Francisco following the depression in the years leading up to World War II, this novel follows the lives of three very different young women as they follow their dreams and hearts. One of them, Ruby, is Japanese trying to pass as Chinese to avoid the bigotry and fear of her ancestral homeland. The other two, Grace and Helen, are Chinese but from very different circumstances and families. The three of them meet in 1938 and end up in a very fragile and volatile trio of “China Doll” performers.

All of the three protagonists think only of themselves when crises occur, and they hit with vicious frequency. It’s hard to imagine how they could be friends again after some of the things that happen. But they are sewn together with a thin thread that sometimes breaks, but is always mended by some invisible force sewing them together in a patchwork quilt of familiarity.

China Dolls is a compelling read, and even though I didn’t really like the three main characters, I couldn’t wait to find out how they might squirm out of their most recent predicaments.

The novel explores the internment policies of the United States during World War II, and the reader is taken into the camps where the Japanese were herded during those dark and scary days. Given what’s happening today with all Muslims marked by those claiming to follow Islam, the story is a haunting reminder of what we did previously, and why it didn’t work then and should never be considered now. It’s worthwhile to read for this part of the story alone.

I did find one aspect disturbing and thought the author had a chance to speak out against domestic violence in the life on one of the characters (trying not to give out a spoiler here!), but instead she chose to push it aside. Instead, the abuser is excused because of the hardships in his early life. In my mind, there is no excuse for abuse of anyone, particularly a young defenseless child.

Lisa See is a master storyteller, and she shines in this novel. How else to explain why I continued reading with anticipation a novel dotted with characters I didn’t admire or want to be? These three women are anti-heroes in some ways, yet their stories are compelling and presented in a fascinating package.

MaelstromMaelstrom by Francis Guenette – The title of this thriller is appropriate on several levels. The plot is a maelstrom of conflicts. The characters are embroiled in a maelstrom of emotions. The events could be described as nothing else besides a maelstrom.

Also, the creation of this work of fiction created a maelstrom of emotions in its producer and writer, who took the draft of a manuscript began by her mother, June Guenette, many years ago. After June’s death in 1997, the manuscript went to Francis’ son and was seemingly lost until a few years ago. Francis took the original seed of an idea and turned it into the page-turning, twisted story of a fictional town in the rugged western regions of the North American continent. But as she took typewritten white placemat pages and turned them into a manuscript, the author suggests she went through her own maelstrom to bring the novel to publication.

If you’ve read any of the books in the Crater Lake Series by Francis Guenette, be prepared to be as shocked as I was. There are very few likable characters, until perhaps the end. And any compassion felt for some of the younger ones is born of pity and not true empathy. Never will you meet such evil, narcissist folks as the ones who roam and rule the streets of Haddon. I don’t usually read books filled with such horribly violent scenes, such as populated the pages of this novel, but because the author created a compelling story, I found myself guiltily escaping back to my Kindle to find out if and when the worst of the worst would get their due.

Ms. Guenette once again proves her prowess as a gifted storyteller with her descriptive setting of the isolated town and its towering castle on the hill, Casa Destino. Long-held resentments and prejudices dominate the action of the novel. The two main antagonists, Sheriff Calder and Mayor Thatcher, dominate the scenes. The man set to inherit Casa Destino after the death of his adopted father, Myhetta, appears to be unfeeling and unemotional through much of the story. But eventually, some redeeming qualities do appear toward the end. But he has been so damaged, as has everyone around him, that it’s unclear what fate holds for him. Never have I read a novel filled with so much human depravity. I feel as if I need a very hot shower to wash it all away.

As with the previous review, this novel explores the dangers of bigotry and genetics. It’s a lesson in how not to live life. One relationship stands out as one with some virtue, and that’s the one between Myhetta and his best friend, Laird. Loyalty above all else withstands all the tests. And the love of a mother for her child shines through in both Myhetta’s mother, Ayha, and Laura Thatcher for the son she adopted when she married the mayor.

Myetta and Laura emerge as the main characters, eventually. They change the most during the course of the novel, and for once, it’s in positive ways.

Fast-paced and riveting, this novel requires a score card. The characters are many and their intertwined lives require the reader to always pay attention or be lost in the maelstrom.

 

 

 

AUTHOR WEDNESDAY – FRANCIS GUENETTE

cropped-cropped-typewriter.jpgToday a favorite author of mine drops by o share her thoughts on her new novel. Francis Guenette has visited Author Wednesday several times. I’ve been a great fan of her Crater Lake Series, so I wondered how it would be to read a very different sort of book by her. She addresses that very issue from her perspective when she sat down to create her latest work, Maelstrom.Maelstrom 6x9 Cover JPEG

 

So here’s Francis to tell us a little bit about how it was to leave her friends at Crater Lake for a bit so she could bring Maelstrom to light.

Many thanks to Patricia for hosting me yet again on her blog. Pat has been a solid supporter of my books and I can’t thank her enough. She has posed me a challenging question to answer in light of my recent release of the stand-alone novel, Maelstrom.

How did it feel to switch writing genres and leave the Crater Lake Series behind?

I wondered more than once if I could manage. My main concern was how I would expand the room in my head to accommodate another group of characters. The abundance of personalities worried me more than any issue related to genre.

While working on Maelstrom, I confess to having all the doubts that a soon-to-be parent would have when contemplating the arrival of a second child. Will I love this new one? Will I have enough energy for child number two without scrimping on what I want to give to my first born?

In my novels, plot and setting are character driven. I can imagine myself writing in any genre as long as I am able to create fully-developed characters with well-thought out story arcs. A book’s setting becomes a matter of backdrop. In saying that, I don’t wish to denigrate the research, time and effort required to create a realistic arena in which to let loose one’s characters. For me, such work is governed by where the characters demand to be taken.

With the writing of Maelstrom, I discovered that the prime real estate in my head could only be occupied by one group of characters at a time. The Crater Lake gang had to be willing to wait in the wings and at times, I had to push them back with force. They are a demanding group!

With Maelstrom finished and launched out into the world, I am currently storyboarding the next book in the Crater Lake series. What joy to discover that I have a whole crew of characters who are more than willing to accept an invitation to take up residence once again in my thoughts.

About Maelstrom 

A shot is fired into the still night air and a young woman dies on Suicide Ridge. A dangerous game has begun. Over the course of one blistering, hot week, winds of change sweep through an isolated valley in small town America.

Sheriff Bert Calder, with the help of Mayor Amos Thatcher, has held the town of Haddon under his thumb for twenty-five years. As things spin out of control, Calder works the angles, ensuring he can make the most of the upheaval that is to come.

Rafael Destino, facing his own mortality, races against time to gain control of the railroad – a lifeline essential to the town’s survival. His goal – to financially destroy Thatcher, the man he believes responsible for the death of his beloved sister. His tool – adopted son Myhetta. But how far down the road of revenge will Rafael push the young man who owes him everything?

Myhetta is poised on the edge of controlling Destino Enterprises, the job he has been groomed for. While money, power, and influence are his to command, the past continues to torment him.

In a clash of powerful men, with fathers pitted against sons, no one will be left unscathed. Maelstrom is a page turner that speeds along like a runaway train.

Francis Guenette - author photoAbout Francis:  Francis Guenette has spent all of her life on the west coast of British Columbia. She lives with her husband and finds inspiration for writing in the beauty and drama of their off-grid, lakeshore cabin and garden. She has a graduate degree in Counselling Psychology. She has worked as an educator, trauma counsellor and researcher.

Links

Website – Disappearing in Plain Sight

Crater Lake Series

Purchase Maelstrom by clicking on links below.

Amazon US

Amazon CA

Amazon UK

Author Wednesday Posts

November 6, 2013

May 21, 2014

May 27, 2015

Book Review Friday – Crater Lake Series

Disappearing in Plain Sight

The Light Never Lies

Chasing Down the Night

 

 

Time to Review and Renew

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Now that I’m in the down period before the start of 2014, I thought it a great time to look over the past year and the goals I set for myself. If that doesn’t discourage me, I’ll move into the new and renewed goals for 2014.

The Writing Goals for 2013

  1. Launch Trails in the Sand Done3-D1web
  2. Finish Safe HarborThis didn’t happen, but I’m working on it and changed the title to Native Lands.
  3. Publish a book of essays on my travels. I already have a name: Odyssey to Myself –  I have a file started and introductory chapters are forming, but still lots of work to do. Hopefully, I will get it done during the winter months.
  4. Pull together all of my gardening blog posts from my blog “Living Lightly Upon this Earth” into a bookDone. I published From Seed to Table in May 2013.S2T-5
  5. Read the pile of books on my desk, both fiction and nonfictionSome of the pile is still there, but I’ve made a dent. I’m also working through all the books on my Kindle. And I’m attempting to show self-control by staying away from bookstores.
  6. Establish myself as a bestselling author – I suppose in some altered reality, I could claim this title. I’ve made it to the No. 1 slot on Kindle during my free day offerings. I don’t think that really counts, but it’s something. I continue to add followers to my twitter account (more than 2,000 followers at @PCZick), I have three Facebook fan pages now: P.C. Zick Author, Florida Environmental Novels, and Civil War Journal. The pages continue to gather followers. Combined they represent nearly 1,000 “likes.” Each week I receive several more followers to my two blogs: Writing Whims and Living Lightly. I try not to obsess over the numbers but the last time I checked I had more than 500 “real” followers of my blogs.

So those were the goals of the past year. Even though I marked two and a half of them in red, I’ve at least made progress on them. In addition, I did one major thing this year that never made it into the goals because a year ago, I didn’t know that I would put together the Civil War journal of my great grandfather, but I did just that and published it in October as Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier. I’m very proud of that labor of love.Civil War Kindle CoverI also re-released a novel from 2003. A Lethal Legacy is a psychological thriller and still one of my favorites.LL_PBOOK005

With that out of the way, I have some new and old goals for 2014.

1. Establish myself as a best-selling author – I’m going to keep this one on here until it happens in a real universe. There are sidebar goals to achieve toward this end:

  • Market all of my books through free websites, social media, and paid advertising only after researching the outcome.
  • Continue building social media relationships. I’m better on Facebook than Twitter but I keep trying. For now, I’m concentrating on those two giants before expanding out. However, I believe Google is coming on strong so I will keep my eye tuned there.
  • Continue writing my blogs to give my followers something interesting, intelligent (most of the time), and worthwhile to read. I will continue Author Wednesday and Book Review Friday which are a delight to do while helping my fellow authors. I plan to get back on a regular schedule with Living Lightly.
  • Most importantly, I will continue to write and publish.

2. Finish writing Native Lands and publish it in 2014 – I’m not quite ready to make a date commitment yet, but I will in a few months.

3. Publish Odyssey to Myself – Goal for publication: March 2014. We shall see.

4. Work on new travel blog, P.C. Zick Travels – I already have this set up for photos and essays from my travels, but I need to work on it more and then promote for followers.

5. Establish my editing and formatting business – This is something I’ve put off while working on my books, but I will soon be offering my services in a formal way. I’ve been editing fiction and nonfiction for years but went away from it when I started my journey as an Indie Author. A former client, Leona Bodie, hired me to edit her new book this year and now another fellow writer has hired me to format her book of Cuban recipes for Create Space. I’m excited about getting back to helping others realize their own writing dreams.

6. Start a new work in progress by the end of the year – I have two or three ideas floating around, and I keep jotting down ideas.

So that’s it for me this year. These are all reachable goals and help me clarify my focus.

Happy New Year to you all. I’m so grateful to all of you who follow this blog and who take the time to comment and “like” my posts. Thank you.

What are your goals for 2014?

Author Wednesday – Adam Pepper

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Welcome to Author Wednesday. Today I interview Adam Pepper, author of Buried a Man I Hated There. Adam describes his book as “a dark and unusual psychological thriller with a slight literary bent.”Buried-Art

Hello, Adam. I’m glad you stopped by today to talk about your book and your life as a writer. I’m always interested in how other authors view themselves as a writer. My vision includes the antique typewriter I use for Author Wednesday. What is your vision of yourself as a writer?

I’ve always been ambitious. I write to entertain but also to illustrate my own personal worldview in a way that compels readers to come along for the ride, either because they identify or simply find my view interesting.  My books generally fall in the suspense genre, but I strive for something deeper and more memorable than a beach read.  And yet, I never want my readers to feel bored or preached to.  Any message must come across organically.  Story first.  Always.

I love that. While we are forced to categorize our books into genres, often those books don’t fit into the strict definition. Speaking of messages, what messages or themes do you try to convey to your readers?

My work tends to come from a cynical place.  I don’t intend to be negative, but rather realistic.  Human nature can range from ugly to silly, and I look to capture that range in my stories.  Characters with the most depth propel the story forward but shallowness exists too and can’t be ignored.

What authors have influenced your writing and why?

Clive Barker for his imagination.   Hubert Selby Jr. for his raw power.  Kurt Vonnegut for his ability to make serious statements while being completely off-the-wall at the same time.

Setting can be used to great effect in novels. How does setting play a role in your stories?

Setting is crucial. Most of my stories are set in New York because I know it so well, and it’s a setting that genuinely interests people, even though it’s been used in fiction perhaps more than any other location.  It’s a great city that lives and breathes and so there’s always room for another NYC story.  In Buried, the story rotates from the city locale to rural Vermont.  These two drastically different settings give the story needed contrast.

What other techniques do you like to use in your writing?

I think experimentation and creativity are keys to standing out.  But I don’t like self indulgence.  I’m known to play with tenses and points of view, and my stories aren’t always linear.  But they are always coherent and fast paced.

I enjoy that, too. Now let’s talk specifically about Buried a Man I Buried There. What’s your one sentence pitch for your book?

When a devoted family man loses everything he loves, who is he?

It’s an interesting title. How did you choose it? Has it been the title from the very beginning?

My alternate title was Picnics in the Snow, which I loved, but I was afraid it sounded too much like a love story or romance novel.  There is a very strong romance element to the piece, but it’s more of a dark suspense novel with a literary bent. The picnics are a huge part of the book and I was very attached to that title, but I was also afraid I would lose my audience with it.

Is the book traditionally or self-published? Why did you choose one over the other?

I spent more than a decade trying to break into publishing.  I’ve had two agents, published in the small press and built up a healthy, grassroots following.  But I never landed a deal from a big NY publisher.  Buried received a lot of attention when I shopped it around a few years back.   It sat for a while on my hard drive until I decided it was time to send it out into the world.  I’ve self-published two other novels, a dark fantasy novel, Symphony of Blood, and a mob thriller, Skin Games.  This book is a pretty strong departure from those books, but I believe it has the most depth and substance.

Where do you write?

I dream of one day having a “real office.”  Something “writerly” with a globe, immense bookshelves, and a walnut desk.  What I really have is a 5′ by 7′ man cave in the corner of my basement next to the hot water heater. It’s smaller than most prison cells, and it feels like one at times.  But it’s home! And I’ve produced some good work while holed up there.

As long as you can write there, it doesn’t matter. A woman once told me she’d start writing once her husband built her a new house with an office. She’s still not writing. Thanks for stopping by today, Adam. It’s been a real pleasure to learn more about you and your work.

GE DIGITAL CAMERAAbout Adam Pepper – At times disturbing and grim, others raunchy and comical, Adam Pepper’s work is known for a unique blend of horror, suspense and speculative fiction. Memoria, Adam’s debut novel, reached No. 1 on the Dark Delicacies Best Seller list and received rave reviews from Cemetery Dance and Chronicle.  “Super Fetus,” his outrageous Bizarro novella was called “In-your-face, allegorical social commentary” by esteemed reviewer, Paul Goat Allen.  His quick-hitting short work has appeared in genre magazines including The Best of Horrorfind, Vol. 2 and Space and Time.  Adam’s non-fiction credits span from New Woman Magazine to The Journal News. His recent publications include the mob thriller, Skin Games and the supernatural detective novel, Symphony of Blood

Links to Buried a Man I Hated There

Amazon:  http://amzn.to/111k7xw

Amazon UK : http://amzn.to/ZUYTF6

BN.com: http://bit.ly/14fWBlE

Kobo: http://bit.ly/151LQTd

Follow on twitter:  @AdamRPepper

Learn more about Adam at his website: www.AdamPepper.com.