Liars by Steven Gillis is a page turner up until the very end. Jaded by his own marriage breakdown, a writer struggling to capture lightning in a bottle twice spies a couple in the supermarket and becomes fixated on them. Eric McManus is the author who has branched out into owning a recording studio, but still chases the dream of again capturing the success that was had with his first book.
I loved this book. I was immediately hooked from the first chapter. The first person narrative style has appealed to me since I devoured Gone Girl, and it’s been rare for me to find a book that I can devour as quickly as I did that one. Liars is well on its way to becoming this.
What I enjoyed most about this book is that the writer doesn’t try to justify how shitty the main character is. He simply paints the character as he is, flaws and all, and leaves you as the reader to deal with it.
This book also brings forth some very interesting ideas about enlightenment as a concept. My favourite quote is from the main character’s live in lover but not girlfriend Gloria, where she explains to McManus that she doesn’t think enlightenment is that great anyway as it only ends up with people being hurt. It’s good that the main character has people who disagree with him and show him alternate views as it becomes very clear that he gets fixated on things and tries to destroy them.
The fixation on the couple in the supermarket only grows throughout the novel, as McManus inserts himself into their relationship by contacting where the female works and getting her to help him with his back garden. I’m glad that the creepiness of this was addressed again by Gloria, because it made me a bit uncomfortable to read this. McManus’ almost compulsive need to destroy this couple and expose their happiness as a ‘lie’, as the title suggests, gets more and more obvious throughout the book. This is especially shown through the passages where McManus says ‘years on, I will write’. It’s almost as if he is using their relationship as an idea for his book because he is stunted and annoyed at his own lack of creative growth.
The book also brings up interesting ideals about love. While McManus is still obviously hurting from the breakdown in his marriage and his tried and failed attempt at having an open relationship with his partner, it’s interesting to read a book that explores this more commonplace idea. I have always been a bit interested in the dynamics of open relationships, and it’s interesting to see whether or not people can put aside their jealousy and truly engage in an open relationship. McManus also mentions that he had sex with women without his wife’s consent, which is another way that open relationships engage. It’s nice that he’s at least a little bit self aware, otherwise this novel would be very difficult to read indeed. I loved reading this book!
Pages: 210 | ASIN: B075F32YR1
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Sleepeth Not, the Bastard is a fascinating and thought-provoking look at suicide and how it affects the people around the tragedy. Why was this an important book for you to write?
While I myself have had no direct experiences with suicide, I’ve been around many people who have, and have also been stuck in situations surrounded by people who literally teetered on the edge of themselves with staying alive being on one side of that edge, and ending it all being on the other. It’s a sticky subject to talk about because so many people have a fixed concept in their minds that suicide is always, always, ALWAYS a bad thing. I’ve often questioned it myself, the idea of what it would be like to kill myself (albeit not seriously, just what the scenario would be and why and what would happen after the fact). I suppose it may be strange to think that yes, there can be reasons for one to want to end themselves. After all, we aren’t asked to be born, why can’t we have the freedom to decide when enough is enough? Then again, that’s not exactly the motive behind the suicide factor in this book. It’s become a wonder to me why so many people see victims of suicide as being selfish or even cowardly when it feels as though those left behind couldn’t possibly make that call themselves. To end one’s own life, depending on the circumstances of course, may be the most brave thing someone can do. I wanted to explore that with this book, because when Josh does take the leap, he puts into motion a train wreck that can’t, but also SHOULDN’T be stopped.
Your characters are always well thought out and often go through dramatic transformations throughout the story. What is your writing process like in developing your characters?
Generally, especially as of late, I can’t plan out from the start where my characters will end up by the end of the story. Most of the time I just start writing, and sometimes something in the background or from my memories will inspire me to expand upon said idea. The characters, as with all if not most writers out there, all have a little part of me in them. Sometimes characters turn into what I wish I could be. Sometimes they exist in a world in which I wish I existed, and so on. With “Sleepeth Not, the Bastard”, the characters just sort of came out of me; the dialogue, the exposition, the plot surrounding their actions and influencing their motives. I can’t describe it as well as I’d like. Maybe, if anything, I take the worst of me and put it into the story hoping the characters can figure out for themselves what would be the best course of action.
I understand that you work in the service industry and often travel from state to state. How has your work helped you write your books?
Travel has had a huge influence on my writing. Constantly being in a state of motion is more or less the cheapest drug I’ve ever been able to get my hands on, but with it also comes a slew of emotions. Being away from the people I love, not being able to feel the comfort of my own bed, things like that have a heavy effect on what goes on the page. Meeting people everywhere I go aids significantly in fueling the personalities and behaviors of my characters. As nasty as my job can get, even with the worst days I’ve had while on the clock, being on the road is more than enough to make up for it.
Your stories often cover a wide range of themes in many different genres. What is one genre or theme that you haven’t yet touched but want to write about?
I’ve dabbled in science fiction and fantasy in the way WAY past but don’t think I’ll ever go back, but that could change. I’ve considered tackling psychological horror, sort of in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe and Eli Roth, but there’s very little in the works in that department. Sometimes I’ll watch a horror movie and think, wow… I could definitely write something like that, and it’d be fun and terrifying. But then I get stuck on my other writing, my contemporary fiction kick that I’ve been on for a while. Who knows? After the book I’m currently working on, I might make a go at something completely different.
“The gravity of fate is nothing in comparison to the fleeting warmth of a loved one’s last kiss…”
….thus reads the final words of High School Senior Joshua Feranna.
Several years later, Lew, his father, currently working for a faceless loan shark, has dipped into a drug and lust-filled method of cope. Separated but not divorced, his wife Autumn finally tracks Lew down, begging him to come home to help take care of their identity-in-crisis daughter Zoey.
But when Lew’s friend from high school, Sarah Fox, having lived the life of a drummer in the all-but extinct rock band “The Bastards” returns to town stalked by a rumored “Resurrection Tour”, Lew’s world truly becomes a thing of legend….and doubt.
What transpires from then on is a continuing snowball effect that will inevitably lead to the cataclysmic destruction of one family and others as the world continues to busy itself around them in seamless melancholy.
“Sleepeth Not, the Bastard” is a story about people, each one steadily climbing towards a foreseeable yet undeniable end. Each person influencing the other in one massive string of events escalating and culminating at the end of their respective worlds whether those worlds be of mental, emotional, psychological, or delusional origin.
Part drama, part dark comedy, part rock ‘n roll epic, with a copious and perhaps endless helping of sex, drugs, and infamy… “Sleepeth Not, the Bastard” is a romp for this generation, an homage to those that came before, and a warning for those that follow.
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To Never Know depicts the story of Steven Lewis, and how he is affected by his life choices, his stalled inertia, and forces far beyond his control.
To Never Know, by Thomas Duffy, is a millennialist coming of age drama centered on the late adolescence and early adulthood of the main character, Steven Lewis. The story starts in 1994 in Queens, New York. Steven is in his Senior year of High School. Steven has a crush on a girl in his class, Kelly Brennan. She seems to be interested in him, finding excuses to interact by asking for his notes and a stick of gum. But he never works up the courage to ask her to Prom.
The story skips past graduation and things have changed for Steven. His life continues a downward progression: his grades are not as good at college as they were in High School, he drops out, takes some time off. He tried calling Kelly again, but he could not bring himself to talk to her.
A family friend encourages him to send Kelly a letter, so he does, on September 10, 2001. Keeping in mind that Kelly lives in New York, you can make some good guesses about where the story goes after that, but this story packs a lot more into it, as Steven’s life events continue to unfold.
This story is an exploration of millennialist worries and fears in a post-9/11 life: adulthood with its ever-increasing responsibilities, how to live a good life, intimacy, isolation, establishing one’s self-identity, and the existential fear of death. The story is deeply emotional, with conflicting emotions. The quality of writing is strong enough to convey nuanced emotions and details. There were a few copy editing issues, but none bad enough to detract from the powerful meaning of the story.
The title, To Never Know, gives some insight into the central themes within the story. There is a strain of philosophical agnosticism (not in the religious sense) that there are unknown unknowns in our lives and that tomorrow is never guaranteed. There is also the theme that there are “bells that cannot be un-rung.” Steven cannot go and have the relationship he wanted. We will never know what life would have been like if one thing would have been changed in the distant past, and we cannot know what tomorrow will bring.
This book is good, but really heavy at times. It is intended for adult audiences, and probably best understood by older millennials. There are depictions of sex, death, terrorism, and coarse language. The content of the story takes an odd twist at one point, and the end is unexpected.
Pages: 208 | ASIN: B01K7RYJB6
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Dave Matthes’s irreverent, profanity-laced, often hilarious novel, Sleepeth Not, the Bastard, is a fascinating work of writing. It’s half sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, and half a thoughtful and thought-provoking look at suicide and how it affects family and friends around the incident. Sleepeth Not, the Bastard follows two separate but surprisingly intertwined characters: Lew Ferranna, a deadbeat dad, drunkard, and generally unsavory character, and Sarah Fox, a famous drummer and rockstar from the all-female rock band, The Bastards. Matthes reveals in the opening pages of the story that Lew’s son committed suicide at the age of seventeen, and spends the rest of the novel’s tumultuous pages examining how that incident affected not only Lew and his family, but also how Sarah’s hardcore band, The Bastards, and their wild, rough-living producer, Wolfgang Stephanopolis fits into the mysterious puzzle of life.
I have had the privilege of reading several of Matthes’s works, and he has a skill that I have only seen before in Kurt Vonnegut. He is able to create completely unlikable, frustrating, and obnoxious characters, and turn them into protagonists that, for some unknown reason, you find yourself pulling for. The two stars of Sleepeth Not, the Bastard are superficially very unlikable: Lew has abandoned his daughter and wife after their son’s suicide; Sarah is standoffish, erratic, and crude. But perhaps what’s appealing about Matthes’s characters is the fact that they are so relatable. Though hopefully few of us know people who would commit some of the frankly horrible acts that Matthes’s characters perform, it’s a fact of life that everyone has flaws. It is refreshing to see characters dealing with problems that we, as readers, have likely seen or experienced ourselves: the demise of relationships, parental-child fights, addiction, depression, and death.
Fortunately, though, Sleepeth Not, the Bastard is not all doom and gloom. In his solid novel, Matthes manages to create humor (albeit dark) in the absurd situations he places his characters in. Whether it’s a tiger outside of Vegas, a minivan driving through the garage door, or the insanely gaudy (and proud of it) producer Wolfgang Stephanopolis, Sleepeth Not, the Bastard manages to bring a smile to readers’ faces in the most surprising moments. The story lacks only in a few small facets that irritated me personally, specifically the lack of double L’s in all of Lew’s parts of the story (meaning “walls” would be written as “wal s”).
Though it covers potentially disheartening topics, Sleepeth Not, the Bastard will not dishearten readers. Similar to Matthes’s other works, it manages to address the most unpleasant topics of life while also instilling a positive and motivating force in readers. It often feels as if Matthes’s charactesr are saying to readers what we all know but sometimes want to forget: Life can be ugly, hard, and miserable; but life can also be beautiful, surprising, and wonderful. As a reader whose family has experienced the pain and loss of unexpected death by suicide, I found this novel to be painful, at times, but overall uplifting and a reminder to appreciate the beautiful moments in life.
Pages: 453 | ASIN: B00N53IMWW
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Kelvin and Elizabeth grew up in different places, both taught that they were the only people to survive the Dark Days; but they start to question their pasts when they hear strange tales that suggest otherwise. When fate brings them together, it creates more questions than answers: Will Kelvin uncover enough of the mysteries in time to free his home from the evil man who rules it? By following an ancient map to the last resting place of the mysterious fourth Founder of Triopolis, he hopes that the information he seeks will be revealed. When an accident forces Elizabeth to flee with Kelvin, they find themselves on a path that leads him home. During their journey, they discover an ancient race of people who have unbelievable powers over the natural world. Will Elizabeth and Kelvin learn how to fight off the evil that threatens their own existence?
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Underlord of the Netherworld once again brilliantly melds age old wisdom and youthful spirit into a daring tale of life after Peter Pan. What was the initial idea behind this story and how did that transform as you were writing the novel?
In Legends of the Pan 1 (Essence of Neverland):
I wanted to create something multicultural that would help empower children and young adults around the world. This evolved into explaining life balance and human nature; how forgiveness allows personal growth; and how each one of us has the power to create an immense and lasting change in the lives of others.
In Legends of the Pan 2 (Underlord of the Netherworld):
Tolerance of others different from oneself permits the exploration of different points of view within the fascinating scope of human experience. Appearances can be deceiving, and people can change. Friends can become enemies, and enemies can become friends. Most people have the need to improve themselves and their environment, but it depends on one’s values as to what the outcome will be. Impermanence can be our greatest ally if we focus on the goodness within.
The invasion of Malomen, a swarthy society of bloodlusting sea creatures, has brought with it the tides of war. What was your inspiration for these creatures?
I love the sea, aquariums, and scuba diving. I spend hours next to a large aquarium while I write. Many times I stop and marvel at the marine life. While writing this book, I paused to observe the beautiful designs on the skin of a large plecostomus. It made me think about mudskippers that have adapted to land and sea, and then a race of Malomen was born in my mind.
Underlord of the Netherworld earnestly explores the powers of communication, compassion, and community. What morals did you try to capture while developing your characters?
In Legends of the Pan 1 (Essence of Neverland):
I chose four children to be gifted the power of the Pan. The fairies selected them because they each had a special inherent nature. Kuthanda is endowed with love, Dobráta with compassion, Khwam Glaohán with courage, and Rakaná with creativity, which is the literal meaning of each child’s name in their native tongue. Each child was from a different country, raised in a different belief system, and suffered the loss of loved ones due to a different tragedy. These children found happiness because they chose to move on with their lives, keep an open mind, and lose themselves in the service of others instead of wallowing in self-pity.
It is with our thoughts and volition that we create our personal worlds. It is up to each individual to decide which path will be taken. Even if one discovers the chosen path was a mistake, he or she can change direction at any moment, learn from the mistake, and continue to grow, which is what Captain Hook, Chief Najoshi, and Chief Adagash managed to do.
In Legends of the Pan 2 (Underlord of the Netherworld):
Tolerance of others different from oneself permits the exploration of different points of views within the fascinating scope of human experiences. Appearances can be deceiving, and people can change. Friends can become enemies, and enemies can become friends.
Reichi’s innocence gave him the compassion required to save all of the islanders above and below the sea. He could not be swayed to commit an evil act or cause harm since he had never been tainted by the negative affairs of men.
After many years Najoshi had learned to forgive past trespasses, and have compassion for all living beings, tempered with wisdom. He had decided to remain steadfast in his beliefs, even in the most dire circumstances. The chief, his queen, and their children understand the connectivity of all things, the great power found in unity, and that education is the path, which leads away from ignorance and primal instincts.
Will there be a book three in your Peter Pan series? If so, where will it take readers?
Yes, I’ve started writing Legends of the Pan 3. It begins ten years after where we left off in book two. The Merpeople, Malomen, and humans have thrived through cooperation and education. However, several things from their past, which originated in book one and two, are about to come to light to haunt them.
Peter is gone, causing the decline of Neverland and a struggle for power. This once abundant world of dreams come true, soon converts into a place of violence and evil without the positive influence of the Pan. Many have gone missing and none can escape its shores. Neither pirates, nor Indians, or Merpeople and fairies have the magic it takes to defeat the demonic darkness that threatens the very existence of every man, woman, and child living on the island. Can anything save them from this pending doom before it is too late? What can prevent Neverland from becoming void of any hope as it turns into a barren wasteland eventually consumed by the sands of time? Perhaps the answer lies within the essence of this mystical isle, inspiring the hope and motivating the action needed to save them all.
Posted in Interviews
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A coming-of-age tale set in 1975 New York during Tom Wolfe’s “Me Decade”, Stainer follows the misadventures of a naïve Jewish Columbia University student named Benjamin Steiner, who, on the night of his 21st birthday, meets not only the sweet girl of his dreams, a lovely young lady named Rebecca Glaser, but also an unprincipled drug-loving rogue from Princeton called P. T. Deighland. As the days pass, Ben’s immature inability to resist temptation and an overwhelming need to be “cool” gradually cause him to fall under Deighland’s malign influence until, at an impossibly glitzy Princeton party, he encounters and becomes spellbound by a ravishing but predatory high-fashion model named Anthea Montague.
When Rebecca returns from an unexpected overseas trip, Benjamin’s unreasoning jealousy over her friendship with another boy casts a shadow on their budding relationship. A series of rashly imprudent decisions abetted by Deighland and the model leave Ben feeling guilty and angry. At an ill-fated summer barbeque, he wrongly explodes at Rebecca and soon plunges headlong into a reckless self-destructive downward spiral, culminating in a horrific confrontation with Anthea Montague that brings his life crashing down in ruins.
Against the background of a vanished period in American history, Stainer offers a bittersweet nostalgic trip back to a less complex world, during a time of incautious excesses that, while deceptively fun and carefree, in due course forced many unwary youngsters like Benjamin Steiner to learn some necessary – but terribly painful – lessons about growing up.
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The Essence of Neverland is a bold and imaginative tale of pirate battles, formidable fairies, territorial conquests, and unexpectedly, the power of community. In this continuation to the timeless fable of Peter Pan, author Juna Jinsei thoughtfully ushers the Lost Boys into their darkest era yet – the death of Peter Pan. The painful absence of the infamously green-tighted trickster is being felt all across Neverland, leaving friends and foes alike grimly fearing for the future of the lands. As the disruption of harmony begins to threaten all walks of life, age-old enemies must contemplate rewriting their own roles in history, lest all of Neverland become a fairytale entirely.
I feel obligated to admit that Peter Pan was a staple bedtime story in my childhood home. While my father enjoyed boastfully voicing out the comical mischief between Peter and the pirates, I personally always loved the popular legend for its emotional tone. There was something whimsical and charming to the tale, always gently reminding me to appreciate my youth and my family. Even as a child, I recognized that the adventure was steeped in wisdom and parables. In this particular imagining of life in Neverland, author Jinsei beautifully explores many of those same wisdoms, delving into the emotional grips of desiring a place to belong, and missing a home you may never return to. Jinsei ponders these perennial truths through her work with such charm that I read several passages aloud to my partner, wanting to share the touching eloquence of the lessons.
Even with its strong repertoire of life lessons, this novel is admittedly a little dark at times. Jinsei unapologetically crafts the characters to feel authentic to their human nature, respectively. Captain Hook’s surly, albeit loyal, band of pirates are burdened by grief, consumed by thoughts of revenge. The once crafty and playful Lost Boys have grown old and jaded, nostalgically wishing in vain for the return of their impish flying companion. Even the council of magical fairies, as hopeful a creature as one could imagine, have become nervous for the future and harmony of Neverland. In the beginning chapter, Peter Pan’s unexpected death is a severe moment, paving the way for a few other harsh and unfortunate occurrences throughout The Essence of Neverland. Jinsei has an undeniably natural hand for the “twisted fairytale” style, and I loved the boldness of this rendition.
Still, despite the reoccurring macabre tones, The Essence of Neverland remains persistently hopeful and surprisingly lighthearted. Jinsei’s illustrative writing style really shines through the four brave children that serve as the main protagonists. Hailing from various backgrounds and regions, they each find themselves being summoned to the Mother Fairy, the eternal essence and spirit of Neverland. Although they’ve each suffered great losses at tender ages, they bravely begin their journey of growth with such earnesty and ambition that it’s impossible not to root for them whole-heartedly. My kudos to Juna Jinsei for such sincere writing!
Pages: 377 | ASIN: B015QV5C3M
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Miss Sally by Robert Joe Stout is a portrait of a young girl growing up in Texas in the 1930’s. Through trial and error 13-year-old Sally Halm finds out about sex, relationships, and what it means to engage in this behavior without love. She painfully learns what it’s like to be a woman in rural Texas during the great depression and how the church expects women to behave. After patterns of abuse, devastating discoveries, and misguided adventures she learns what it means to be saved and accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
My initial reaction when I began reading this book was one of excitement. I love history, and the 1930’s are one of my favorite eras because of how much was going on across the country. The Great Depression left a tremendous impact on the families affected. After getting a few pages in, however, it was difficult for me to place myself in the characters shoes.
This story gets better as it progresses and when I was further in I was unable to put it down. The writing style while not my favorite was engaging as the characters started to come to life. I especially enjoyed how Mr. Stout wrote Sally’s relationship with her mother. The relationship felt realistic to me because of my own experiences as a 13-year-old and how my mom and I got along.
Sally is a simple minded girl, she is not beautiful, and her family treats her this way. While her sisters, Judy and Hill’ry are thought to be beautiful. As a result of the treatment, she receives Sally has a low self-esteem and her sisters, lovers, and her imagination can quickly persuade her into things she doesn’t want to do. Through all of this, I noted that Sally still seeks the approval of her family and loves them very much.
Sally eventually becomes more curious and finds herself in trouble. After being landing in a church revival, one woman’s story sticks out to her in a way so profound she doesn’t feel she has done wrong enough to be saved by the Lord. She paints her own picture of this woman and believes she has to be like her to be truly saved. This event along with her sister’s encouragement lead to Sally’s dark fate. After what seems like years of abuse and bad decisions Miss Sally goes with her mother to be saved but is once again given the short end of the stick.
Sex and coming of age are two major themes in this story, and Mr. Stout’s rural writing style helps with the setting. Had this story been written any differently the plot wouldn’t have made sense. It was compelling and painted a strong picture of life for a young girl at that time.
Pages: 291 | ASIN: B071HL6YMJ
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Stainer by Iolanthe Woulff truly lives up to being a novel of the “Me Decade”. Set in 1975, we follow Ben Steiner, a Jewish Columbia undergrad who at his core is a decent person but wishes to be “in” with the “in crowd.” On the night of his twenty-first birthday he attends a party that will change his life forever. He meets P.T. Deighland, a wiseass from Princeton, who is clearly up to no good, and Rebecca Glaser who he falls for immediately. His new-found friendship with Deighland and his own youthful temptations lead him to make escalating bad choices that may not only harm his budding romance with Rebecca, but expose this alternate life to the rest of the Jewish community. It is a classic journey of self-discovery, but one with a lightness of humor that keeps it from becoming too dismal.
Woulff does a wonderful job with blending the scenery of 70’s New York City with the strikingly personal conflict of Ben Steiner. The cultural tropes of the Jewish community come into full play and provide the initial conflict of the individual strikes out away from the old traditions of his culture. The fact that Ben lives in a converted residence hall with other Jewish scholars from Columbia. He thirsts for the experience outside of his roots that has been denied to him all these years, and turning twenty-one he feels that he is empowered to do so.
In some ways, this novel is very much the spiritual successor of Catcher in the Rye, but considering it is about the 1970s, it feels much more relevant to our present age. I found the pacing to be a bit of a slow burn, since it weaves this inner journey that Ben must make in order to reach the final beats of the narrative. Woulff provides a story with rich character development, which is impressive for a book that is trying to tackle not only personal conflict, but societal conflict and the social statements at large. Ben suffers from the divide his life takes after the party, where he hides pieces of his life from his Jewish friends.
The book is particularly polished, which is enjoyable and Woulff’s attention to detail and the interiority of her characters to be particularly good. It is also such a wonderful tale of how we can sometimes self-sabotage ourselves and not be able to see the “good” that is often right in front of us.
Stainer presents itself as a coming of age work and one that I think all ages should be able to enjoy. YA readers may take a particular pleasure in reading this novel.
Pages: 345 | ASIN: B071G8KFX1
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