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A Rift That Lies Between Us

A Rift That Lies Between Us: A Novel by [Nasiha Muna]

A Rift That Lies Between Us is a coming of age story about love, tradition, race, and the impact of unlikely friendships. Farisa is an art-major, who escaped the pressures of her highly traditional Muslim family, by going to college out of state. This is where Farisa meets Caiden, a charming, but sometimes overly dramatic classmate who Farisa forms an unexpected friendship with. Despite their drastically different backgrounds often getting in the way, Farisa’s relationship with Caiden shifts something inside her that proves to be the exact push she needs to start living her life, for her and not just everyone else.   

Following a coming of age story that starts in college and goes through early adulthood was refreshing in and of itself, but the fact that this novel also tackled the difficulties of first-generation kids growing up with the conflict of traditional family pressures, and more modern beliefs face was a delightful departure from the norm. Muna was able to bring us into the conflict and pressures of Farisa’s Muslim Bangladeshi-American family in a way that is accessible and eye-opening. 

While Muna was able to give us a well-rounded view of Farisa’s family life and what that demanded of her, some of the attempts at representation seemed a bit forced. I’m all for more representation for minorities in books and media, but some of the lesser storylines about LGBTQ+ issues and mental health didn’t get the focus and the detail that it deserved and as a result didn’t feel as meaningful as it should have. 

I was invested in Farisa’s life and her relationship with Caiden but the book could have used a bit more time to develop some of the other storylines that were brought in to have the impact they deserved to have on Farisa’s life, self-discovery, and beliefs.

Farisa and Caiden’s relationship and all the forms it took over the 8 years this novel covered provided a refreshing look at the evolution of how cultural differences can inform relationships, for better or worse, and the importance of finding your own voice before it’s too late.

I haven’t read a book in a long time that I couldn’t put down in the way that I couldn’t put A Rift That Lies Between Us down, I found myself giddy with excitement, devastatingly sad and completely engrossed in Farisa and Caiden’s story.

Pages: 278 | ASIN: B07T324W4L

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Secretly The One

Dylan Madeley
Dylan Madeley Author Interview

Alathea: Goddess & Empress follows a young princess coming of age in a dangerous kingdom that shapes who she becomes. What was the inspiration for the setup to this thrilling story?

The first works in which Alathea appeared were the three books I had written prior, the Gift-Knight trilogy. Alathea is barely in the first book of that series but she’s the primary antagonist. She has goals and an interesting way of going about them, and quite the aesthetic as well. I once had a reviewer suggest that they were more interested in Alathea because Alathea is a “stronger character”, more effective at getting things done than her rival Chandra. While I believe this reviewer might not have been interested in ethics at all, I must thank them for reminding me that compelling antagonists are often the protagonists of their own story and there are always readers who love them. This novel is the story that I decided to give Alathea, where she certainly is the protagonist and has some sympathetic goals.

I appreciated the slow development and subtle evolution of Alathea’s character. What were some obstacles you felt were important to developing her character?

My values permeate my works, so representing them well can be a challenge. I wasn’t about to write a story where it turns out Alathea was secretly the one you should have cheered for in the Gift-Knight trilogy all along, so I needed the reader to become invested in her world, what happens to it, what happens to her, and what she does to it, without writing a lawful good character who would make more dedicated readers wonder what went wrong between this and the Gift-Knight trilogy. I felt that I needed to show the many complicated things that can go wrong with parenting, especially in the halls of brutally acquired imperial power, without making it look like pure ineptitude or lack of effort. I didn’t want to show many characters who are being evil for fun, but I didn’t want to rule out the existence of such. As a writer, finding and maintaining this balanced perspective was an obstacle. Another challenge was the passage of time and how I express it, because Alathea does plenty of growing up in this story, yet if she began the story too young then it might seem she’s growing up unrealistically fast. I needed to be careful about anything I said that marked the passage of time, such as rainy versus dry seasons. I needed to give Alathea noble goals, then show you how difficult it is for her to live up to them when the tools she’s given are brutal ones, and when she’s not aware of any precedent in her culture or her world for successfully accomplishing such goals.

The world you’ve created for this story is intricate and intriguing. What were some sources that informed the worlds development?

For naming conventions, clothing and aesthetics, I looked to Ancient Rome and Greece. All the large port settlements in my created world feature different peoples and cultures, and Port Selumer is no different; I show people with different backgrounds living side by side, because one thing empires do is expand to forcibly encompass many lands and cultures that used to be independently governing. For the clans north of the empire, I once again looked to Ancient Rome and their attitude toward people who lived north of them: the Gauls, the Celts, people living in a large swathe of land labelled “Germania” by Ancient Romans, also the Norse. I didn’t go into such depth with my depiction of Einar’s people, but I did highlight the tension between these peoples and the empire south of them, the deal-making, the imperial game of playing some clans against others. Also, the tiered design of Port Selumer is inspired by port settlements in the Mediterranean such as Santorini, and any place where the urban geography is a bit vertical and descending toward the water. This is also seen in famous fantasy capitals like Minas Tirith. The idea of class divisions based on topographic elevation is probably not new but I didn’t look at a specific example when I decided to do that.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

My current project is getting through this pandemic with my parents in as safe a way as possible. I have stories that I can pursue, but I can’t yet predict which one I will choose. The safest guess is another story within the same world that contains Kensrik, Port Selumer, Derek, Chandra, and their respective family histories, because I would only have to do local world-building instead of arranging an entire continent. I have a couple of options if I go that route. I would love to write something that’s a complete departure from this, just to know that I could.

Author Links: Goodreads | Twitter | Facebook | Website

Alathea was raised to rule, but the benevolent and deranged forces that hope to prepare her for the throne may create a monster. She’s torn between her father’s reign of empty order through terror and violence, and a magical path that could be completely illusory. She can’t live one exclusive of the other, so she lives both.

Her father is bent on protecting his daughter from the same fanatics who killed her mother, but far too often his desire for revenge takes him away from her. His yearning to raise a strong and steadfast heir compromises what little time they spend together.

Her tutor intends to help her be better than her father, more sensible and knowledgeable, in control of her own story and the narrative of the empire just as her mother had been. But he isn’t raising her alone and can’t predict how his teachings will be used.

Her nurse subtly coaxes her toward a path of faith and enlightenment according to the nurse’s secret masters, believing that Alathea can be saved and in turn save the empire. But the Seers have grim plans that they would never reveal to their minion.

This tragic story touches on loss, the insatiable hunger for control, the way people live stories and narratives, the innocence and danger of dreams, the follies of love, the deep hatred and rage dwelling within people, and the dangers of using conquest to strive for peace.

Embattled by all the forces hoping to shape her to their whim, Alathea takes a piece of everything they give her and becomes something never before seen in the land. Goddess. Empress. Monster.

Don’t get me wrong!

Nix Damon
Nix Damon Author Interview

Moira follows a woman trying to make it through life without being killed by weirdos or aliens and finds help with a surprising person. What was the inspiration for the setup to this thrilling novel?

I have to thank J.M. Barrie and Disney directly for my inspiration. Moira is ripped from the story of Peter Pan and Wendy. Almost every scene is a murmur of something that happens in Peter Pan. Some nods to Peter Pan are obvious and some take a little more imaginative sleuthing. Don’t get me wrong! I love the sweet and gentle Wendy Moira Angela Darling. However, for my own twisted interests, I sliced her up and pieced her into the confused, teenage monster that is Moira Angela Starling. I left her in a desert for a more dramatic twist when she should have been swept up in an enchanted land of mermaids and pirates. I wanted to see Wendy grow up, essentially. But, to do that, she had to be alone and be okay with it.

Moira is an intriguing and well developed character. What were some driving ideals behind her character development?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a focused or profound answer! She is in many ways a highly-concentrated version of myself because it was the easiest thing to write. There are elements of my own feelings, topped with lessons I’ve learned through therapy or from scouring my own “inner self.” I let her be a teenager in ways that made me cringe. I let her make me uncomfortable with her language and her behavior, and I even wandered around my house, wondering how she would react to things around me. And then MUSIC! Songs wrote her – not the lyrics, but the combination of instruments and the inflection of voice. Her mood and her personality came to me through sound.

The relationship between Moira and Rafe was enthralling. Was there relationship planned before writing or did it develop organically while writing?

Rafe had always been in the wings and I was hopeful to work their relationship out. I found that the more Moira gained traction in her ordinary life, the more she was empowered to make choices – choices like Rafe! So, I suppose it was wishful planning that worked out organically. Is that dumb? That’s dumb. It was planned, but loosely. I didn’t think it would work out.

This is book one in The Witness Journals. What can readers expect in book two?

Oh, boy. Well, get ready. Book Two leaves Moira and jumps over to the origins of Ravage, Rafe’s foster brother and nearly invisible villain who is actually the coolest, worst dude of all time. The reader will be treated to strong hints of cyberpunk mingled with old earth magic. There will be much human experimentation and fighting for survival, plus the crushing notes of hopelessness and rage. I predict that this book series will wrap up in about seven novels – maybe eight? And each novel gives a glimpse into some part of a character’s life, weaving in and out of Moira’s main storyline, which operates as a kind of treasure map.

Author Links: GoodReads

Moira’s depressing life is interrupted when mysterious tree weirdos attempt to murder her before an ancient jerk named Rafe intervenes to save her life. Oddly attractive (but totally irritating) Rafe eventually makes it his mission to prepare her for any future attacks, claiming that his brother is bent on capturing dear, sweet Moira and using her for unnameable purposes.

Happily, Moira’s life becomes slightly less boring with the rigorous training from Rafe, but she still finds herself struggling to make friends and pay her bills. Keeping boyfriends and eating boiled lizards in the pink salt wilderness is a lot of work when you’re also being told a maniac in space wants to eat your liver and gouge out your eyes. As a result, she is almost always agitated and hitting things (mostly Rafe). Surely, you can see that she is under a great deal of stress.

Will she survive the transition to adulthood and responsibility? She’s got a pretty bad attitude, so probably not.

Silent Screams

Silent Screams by [Zachary Ryan]

Silent Screams by Zachary Ryan follows the lives of four high school friends forced to grow up due to a school shooting. Lane struggles with whether or not to come out to his friends while mourning the loss of his lover. Cass struggles to find someone to save her from her home life. Zachary deals with losing what she thinks makes her special. Ben finds his life of luxury torn away and struggles to figure out who he is without it. Being friends with the shooter, these four students battle with their own demons while attempting to cope with the guilt and responsibility they feel for their friend’s actions.

The raw emotion and authenticity of the characters is something that is outstanding in this book. I applaud Zachary Ryan for creating such imperfect characters that are so relatable. Each character deals with something different and grieves in a unique way. Each character, even background ones, go through so much character development and really grow up and learn how to trust and depend on each other. We get to see through each character’s eyes through point of view changes that happen each chapter. It’s refreshing in a way because you get to see into the heart of each of the four main characters and see their innermost secrets and insecurities. Silent Screams is a story about friendship, love, insecurities, trust, and the dangers of keeping secrets in for too long.

I enjoyed this book, but there were some times I had to reread a line because of a typo. There was also one background character who’s name was inconsistent, being Violet in some places and Valerie in others. However, this book is still thoroughly enjoyable.

Silent Screams was a roller-coaster of emotions from beginning to end. I am not ashamed to admit I cried a couple of times. This is the sort of book you pick up and can’t set down until you finished it. I’m not sure that I would class this as a feel good story but it ultimately leaves you feeling satisfied and rejuvenated.

Pages: 254 | ASIN: B08BK4DPN5

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Alathea: Goddess & Empress

Alathea: Goddess and Empress by Dylan Madeley is an adventure-filled fantasy novel that is sure to please fans of  epic fantasy like the Game of Thrones. The name of Madeley’s novel intrigued me from the very beginning, and the novel kept me engaged through the closing pages with its fast-paced chapters and unexpected plot twists. Reading this in 2020 when many of us are stuck at home with few options for escape, it was certainly a treat for me to follow the adventures of the characters in Alathea: Goddess and Empress across the Coast Empire and through the streets of Port Selumer.

The novel centers on its namesake, Alathea, who is the young heir to the Coast throne. Alathea’s age is vague, she is not a girl although net yet a woman. Alathea is educated in the ways of the world by her sage tutor, Rheb, yet she has much to learn if she seeks to assume control of the throne. Alathea’s father, Emperor Maximian, is an abrasive character who frequently lets his rage get the better of him when dealing with both friend and foe. As the course of events unfolds, Alathea finds herself taking on the responsibilities of the throne and defending her kingdom from enemies at many angles who wish to usurp her power. With the support of Rheb and Einar, a young warrior from a northern clan, Alathea takes on new powers, both earthly and mythical.

With Alathea: Goddess and Empress, Madeley has created a novel that you can hardly put down due to the excitement and action contained within its 300-odd pages. I frequently found myself staying up past my bedtime to finish a chapter to see how Rheb and Alathea triumphed over their challenges, and Madeley does a good job of keeping the plot fresh and surprising. The novel struggled, though, with its main character: Alathea is not particularly likeable, and I frequently found myself feeling annoyed with her actions and her gratuitous self-indulgence. I struggled to relate to her emotions and felt she was a bit too unsympathetic of a character to be a protagonist for whom I would want to cheer. Thankfully, Alathea is surrounded with good people, and Rheb and Einar are strong supporting characters. Rheb was perhaps my favorite character, and I would love to read a novel by Madeley about his development and experiences. His vast knowledge and mysterious aura really appealed to me, and every chapter from his perspective was a delight. Madeley also excels in his descriptions of hand-to-hand combat – these scenes truly blew me away with their detail and expertise!

Alathea: Goddess and Empress is creative and engaging, with several very positive supporting characters. The world that Madeley has created in the Coast empire is one worth exploring and I hope for future installments in this literary world.

Pages: 288 | ASIN: B085LDXDZX

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Moira

Moira (The Witness Journals Book One) by Nix Damon is a fantasy fiction story set in New Mexico in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s (Anti-World 42) about a teenage girl who finds herself on her own as soon as she turns eighteen. But Moira Angela Starling has been fending for herself a long time, even before her aunt abandoned her without warning or explanation. After Moira is attacked when she is out for a run, she meets a man named Rafe. But is he friend or foe? Suddenly, Moira is thrust into a world of magical beings and unexplained mysteries and danger. Will she be able to find a way to survive?

This was a fun story to read. I liked Moira’s snarky wit at the beginning of the story. The author’s vivid descriptions of her characters really brought Moira and Rafe to life for me. It was interesting to learn details about the different anti-worlds and the witnesses, and Moira’s abilities and the secrets of her true identity. I liked the addition of the author’s playlist at the end of the book, which allows readers to listen to the music that inspired Moira’s story. One of my favorite aspects of the book was the interactions between Moira and Rafe. I enjoyed reading the parts of the story where Moira and Rafe were together more than the sections when he was gone.

The story line is a bit drawn out with several years passing. The book starts with Moira in high school where she doesn’t fit in, and this section felt very much like a young adult fantasy story. But then Moira is out of school and we see her working several jobs and trying to conform to be a more “normal” adult, which seemed counter to her personality, but the juxtaposition and development felt more like real life. But the fantasy element of the novel wavers in this part while we’re treated to a more grounded story. It didn’t feel like the two sections belonged in the same book since they were disparate. but then Rafe reappears in Moira’s life and takes her to his home, and the fantasy aspect of the story becomes much stronger again and I was reeled back into this riveting story.

The author leaves the reader with a lot of unanswered questions at the end of the story and Moira’s fate is uncertain. Hopefully, these questions will be answered in Witness Journals book two. Moira is an enthralling coming of age novel filled with magical realism that kept me furiously flipping pages.

Pages: 383 | ASIN: B0829FH2RX

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Nothing that Addresses the Aftermath

Greg Wyss
Greg Wyss Author Interview

When Life Was like a Cucumber follows the odyssey of Jeffrey Hesse’s life through the 70’s. What served as your inspiration for this story?

My inspiration was personal. Having come of age during the 60s, I have always felt that an important part of my generation’s story has been overlooked in both literature and film. There is no shortage of books or movies covering those tumultuous times but virtually nothing that addresses the aftermath of the decade and its effect on those who lived through it. If the reader is transported back to the era and inside the confused minds of those who were there, then I achieved my goal.

Jeff is an intriguing and well developed character. What were some driving ideals behind his character development?

Jeff is a flawed individual and a product of small-town America in the 50s and 60s. It was important to portray him honestly, warts and all. He is insecure, experiments with drugs and is consumed by his sexual appetite. His story is not unique but is meant to be an accurate representation of the thousands, perhaps millions, of those his age who were trying to make sense of their lives at the time.

The novel was able to capture the human experience of living in a tumultuous time. Was there anything from your own life that you put into the story?

Authors write what they know but “When Life Was Like a Cucumber” is a work of fiction, not an autobiography. Jeff’s story mirrors some of my personal experiences and many of the characters in the novel are fictional and composite depictions of people that I crossed paths with during those years.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

I am in the early stages of developing a story that revolves around the wild, unregulated lifestyle of the early 80s in Houston and Texas. At the moment, I cannot project when the book will be completed and available. I will keep you posted.

Author Links: GoodReads | Website

It’s 1972 and the Sixties are over. Or are they?
When the house they are renting outside of Oneonta, New York, burns to the ground, twenty-four-year old Jeffrey Hesse and his wife, Jane, split up, launching Jeff on a wild journey of self-discovery and sexual awakening. Inspired by an angel calling herself Isadora Duncan, Jeff sets out to see the world and find his place in post Sixties America. His odyssey carries him to the Gulf Coast of Florida, the streets of Boston, the hash clubs in Amsterdam, and his ancestral home of Switzerland. He finds himself seated next to Jesus on an airplane and spends an idyllic summer on the island of Crete where he is befriended by a Greek Renaissance man. A delicious stew of Jack Kerouac and Cheech and Chong with a pinch of Forrest Gump added to the mix, When Life Was Like a Cucumber is both funny and sad. Set against the backdrop of the Watergate years, it examines the alienation and hope of a generation weaned on the drug culture, the sexual revolution, and the Vietnam War.
Hang on and enjoy the ride. When it’s over, you’ll have to agree that life is indeed like a cucumber.

Stockboy Nation

Phillip Doherty is a 40 something year old writer living with his long-term girlfriend Melissa in California. After publishing two books, the first one being a success and the second one the opposite. He is left with the feeling that his career is going nowhere and he has no steady job.

His girlfriend Melissa, tired of her jobless boyfriend and their financial status; encourages Philip to find a job. After many twists and turns, Philip decides to make a big change in his life and sets himself on a path of exploration into new romantic relationships and professional possibilities, discovering that life might be more complicated than expected.

Stockboy Nation is a contemporary fiction novel revolving around Philip, his romantic aspirations and his concerns about his professional and personal life. It’s a levelheaded look at what it means to be satisfied with your life. Phillip’s life, muted by failure, has potential to go in some interesting directions, and the novel does well to make these elements of choice and possibility stand out as characters of their own.

Thomas Duffy’s intriguing novel takes place between New York and San Diego and unfolds in what feels like a natural pace. Told from a third person perspective, it mainly presents Phillip’s outlook and shifting sometimes to other main character’s point of view, which was a nice change of perspective, but the star of the show remains Phillip.

Dialog is a big part of the narration and make up a significant percentage of the story. I felt that Duffy dialog feels like a natural interaction between the characters. Sort of an Aaron Sorkin level of intrigue, without the speed, and Stephen King’s depth, without the horror. I like the insightful atmosphere the book brings and I enjoyed the story’s pace however sometimes the dialog slowed the pace a bit.

The plot itself is relatable, because it comprises common issues that we all face throughout our lives, the kind of dilemmas adults encounter when decisions such as marriage, love and career goals are at stake. In addition, it tackles a very specific and current worldwide topic that any reader will relate too.

Phillips character went through a heft amount of changes and I enjoyed watching him evolve, but I would have also like to see that same shift in the other characters in the book. However, the main character’s personality is very well defined which made it easy to picture the story and get into the atmosphere.

The climax of the story was short and almost unnoticeable, it was nothing too dramatic, it felt like a story you hear from your friends over drinks, which can be good. I would recommend this book to people looking for a light reading experience or someone who is eager to have an introspective moment.

Pages: 228 | ASIN: B08B1BRTTX

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