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The Birthday Club is a genre-crossing novel with elements of a thriller, suspense, and mystery as well. Did you start writing with this in mind, or did this happen organically as you were writing?
In my view, fiction is rarely of one genre or another but contain elements of many. I think it is the balance that counts. If a bit of suspense is needed at one point to drive home the plot of the mystery then why not? In fact, I’m not convinced that genres such as mystery and suspense can be separated. Does one not contain some of the other? As for how it happens, in my case it is my intent to write fiction from multiple points of view, to present as rounded a picture of the “operating” environment as possible, and to-most of all-keep it interesting. I’m not sure that I ever, while writing, classify what I am doing as being mysterious or suspenseful, or even thrilling. Even though it is my desire that my writing provides all three experiences to the reader.
The characters in this novel, I felt, were intriguing and well developed. Who was your favorite character to write for?
That is a difficult question to answer. Getting at it in reverse fashion the characters who offered a more concise, non-emotional point of view were the most difficult simply because a lot of thought had to go into keeping the story line rational yet “humanly” interesting. I had a lot of fun with Sylvester Martin because rationality wasn’t among the most important of his characteristics, but I think the “favorite” title must be split between Chris and Angelina. They represent opposite poles in a sense: One closed and taciturn the other open and vulnerable.
There are a lot of great twists in this novel that I rarely saw coming. Did you plan your novel or did the twists come as you were writing?
I’ve tried writing to an outline on several occasions. The only successful attempt was writing my Master’s thesis in Geology; where not following an outline would have been a disaster. While writing fiction I once made it through a chapter and a half on my outline before I trashed the thing. Other attempts have not been nearly so successful. Yes writing without formal pre-planning (we all think of ideas at night that are incorporated in the next day’s effort) can lead to a quagmire–been there and sunk up to my nose–but it generally works for me. Even if it means I have to go back and totally revise three-quarters of a manuscript to incorporate a new idea.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be published?
Philippe, sequel to The Birthday Club, was finished earlier this year, and is available in both e-book and paperback formats on Amazon and as an e-book on Smashwords. I am now contemplating a third in the series, but have not yet made a start with a pen.
When you’re in high school nothing ever seems important about the far distant future. Like five years down the road. Who cares? You’ve got enough to worry about. So, should we add a new member to the group? Not a problem, even if he’s a little strange. See something bad happen in the neighborhood? So what? It happened to someone else’s dog.
After graduation, things change of course. Five years doesn’t seem so far down the road anymore. So you kind of get involved in your own stuff and your high school buddies have their own lives to live anyway. Most of those things that happened back in high school just aren’t important. Maybe.
Maybe not. Like that fender bender you witnessed with all your friends. The one that will turn out to be a whole lot more important than even Dee Dee’s owner thought at the time. Think about it, that little incident on Fuller Street might be just the thing to make your name in the Criminal Investigation Seminar this semester. Who would care if what really happened then became known? It’s ancient history, right?
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A dream. A memory. That’s all Brij remembers of her past – as well as the fact that she was abandoned by a dirt road at the age of three. After getting picked up by a passing stranger who seemed to know everything about her, she lives the next fourteen years of her life in an enormous nuclear power plant, performing high-intensity sports games inside the plant’s five-mile reactor for spectators – people who keep the plant operating. Most days, she doesn’t mind. Then again, she doesn’t have a choice – if she refuses to perform, she’s at risk of being abandoned all over again. When mysterious images start haunting Brij during the performances, she begins to wonder if her life in the plant is real. No matter how much she tries to ignore them, they keep coming back. A series of strange events start to unfold that ultimately leads her to make a choice – whether to live a lie, or face the truth of what she really is, and why she’s here.
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A life story told alongside life lessons…
Grandma’s Secret Blessings: A Memoir with a Twist, is a deeply personal and dramatic-memoir. It tells the story of Yianni’s life, family, troubles, and successes. Told from a mix of first and third-person viewpoints, it gives an interesting perspective on how a person develops character. Central to the book’s theme are the secret blessings, which are a collection of inspirational messages, trans-cultural personal instructions, and existential aspirations. The book also has a number of lessons passed down by Yianni’s grandmother from the Greek oral tradition.
Yianni and his family are Greek in origin, and as such, they share a long history involving the oral transmission of stories. Over history, folk tales and legends were often performed by storytellers in front of audiences, including young children and even grown children, such as Yianni. This culture is present in the story as Yianni learns of his family history, reaching clear back to great-great-grandparents. This family history has personal ties back to Greece and Albania, much of it during a time of serious political and economic turmoil. Of course, those history lessons passed down to Yianni are also infused with Grandma’s life lessons for Yianni. This is all interspersed with Yianni’s own personal history, along with description for the way that these stories and lessons helped him.
There are more than ten of grandma’s secret blessings, many of which existing in some form in many different cultures and languages. However, what makes the lessons particularly powerful is that in Yianni’s experience with his abusive father, Yianni explains that, “…it’s the only way to close the gaping hole in my heart.” Many of these secret blessings are a blessing in that they are a form of grace, protection, or favor for Yianni. “You are the captain of your own ship,” as an example, explains for Yianni that no matter what tosses you around and what terrible things may befall you, you still have control in your own life and life choices. This is how the book is a memoir “with a twist.”
Grandma’s Secret Blessings is not perfect in its presentation. For example, there are a number of typographical and grammatical errors, as well as punctuation mistakes that are distracting. However, these generally do not detract from the message and central themes of the story. In a way, it conveys the very essence of that oral tradition, which is sometimes imperfect and lost in translation.
Grandma’s Secret Blessings is intended for adult audiences. There are depictions of child and intimate partner abuse, discussions of sexuality and sexual behavior, and alcohol and drug abuse. These depictions are realistic in nature, contributing to the overall feel of the book and its weighty emotionality. Overall, even with the copy-editing errors, Grandma’s Secret Blessings is a good read for those looking for emotional and inspirational literature.
Pages: 364 | ASIN: B077PLR98B
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Phoenix, written by Arti Chugpai, tells the story of Sonam Aggarwal and her trials and tribulations as she builds her life as a woman in India. Sonam is a complex character with beautiful soul, intelligence and integrity. Her presence demands authority, and as the Director of Publishing for a branch in India, she has certainly earned respect and accolades. However, there is a part of her that is broken by a moment in her life that she explicitly calls “The Betrayal”. Her family and friends judge her by her relationship failings rather than her career successes, leaving Sonam feeling lost and alone. Will Sonam be able to rise above the stereotypes and convictions of her family and friends to find true happiness?
Phoenix is a novel based on love, life and conforming to gender stereotypes. It’s the year 1998, and there’s a budding romance growing between a middle-aged business tycoon by the name of Kunal Vats and the main leading lady, Sonam Aggarwals. Set in India, Phoenix explores Sonan Aggarwal’s life through her ever-changing family, relationships, career aspirations and friendships.
The story then flits between two different eras of Sonam Aggarwal’s life, one part telling her life as it is in 2017 and the other turning back the clock to the year 1998. It’s here we learn about her life and the changing family dynamics and reoccurring expectations that seem to haunt Sonam, no matter how old her or her family members are.
It was refreshing to read a novel based on someone who is aged between their 40’s-60’s. Most modern love stories center around young adults in their twenties and Phoenix was a gentle reminder that age is no barrier when it comes to pursuing love and happiness. I enjoyed the sense of realism as the characters experienced a love that did not always result in happy endings. Instead, Phoenix dove deep into a raw and personal kind of love, where abuse, betrayal and forgiveness are all prominent players in the relationship game.
Phoenix also explores the events of Sonam’s life so thoroughly that at times you feel as though you are almost reading a biography of a real person. The novel also went into depth to showcase some of India’s culture, including foods, family life and working conditions. Arti Chugpai’s style of writing is confident and expressive, using strong descriptive words and phrases to demonstrate their points within the plot line. Fitting, considering the main character Sonam is a publisher herself.
Phoenix also brings to light the society changes and gender differences in India, and how things change over a period of time. It shows the difference in expectations between men and women, especially when it comes to love and relationships. Women are considered to be successful if they maintain a healthy, happy family, with their career aspirations and achievements often shadowed by the relationship, falls they have had in their life.
I would recommend this for anyone looking for a novel about budding romance, rising above the gender stereotypes and Indian culture.
Pages: 232 | ISBN: 1543701043
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Away from Home is a real and heartbreaking look into the troubled thoughts and feelings many teens experience when part of the foster care system. It seems that your foster children are an obvious inspiration, but what made you put pen to paper (so to speak)?
I am by no means an experienced writer but I wanted to capture the thoughts and feelings of some of the young people that I look after. This was important to me to gain an understanding of how young people may be feeling when they come into my care. Young people coming into the care system may not verbalise how they feel but may show how they feel through actions.
I liked ‘Don’t know if I am coming or going’ because it was a simple and realistic take on how a newly placed teen may feel upon arriving in a new place. What was your favorite poem from the collection and why?
My favourite poem was ‘wonderful you have come back to see me’. It is my favourite poem because it shows with, attention, care and firm boundaries young people can succeed. They do not have to leave care the same way they came in.
What do you think is a common misconception about foster children that people have today?
Teenagers are portrayed by the media for being ‘out of control’ and dangerous. Young people come into care for all different reasons and it is up to responsible adults to guide them through life.
I felt that Away from Home allowed me to understand the ups and downs of the foster care system. What do you hope readers take away from your book?
I am hoping that my book can be used as a training tool for new carers thinking of fostering teenagers. They will learn about some of the emotions that young people display when coming into care and foster carers training will help them find ways to deal with the behaviour. The end result in some cases is worth not giving up.
Also people with teenagers can relate to some of the emotions that are displayed in book and the reasons behind it. Behind the emotions, there are possible reasons for the behaviour.
Away from Home is a collection of short poems inspired by the writer’s experience of fostering teenage girls over a ten year period.
The poems are from real life situations of teenagers in my care. Fostering teenagers can be challenging but it is also very rewarding.
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Choose: Snakes or Ladders follows Mitty who comes up against sexism and classism and must challenge others’ prejudices while fighting her inner demons. What was your inspiration for this provocative novel?
I didn’t have any articulated inspiration for the novel. It started as a short piece and grew seemingly by itself. I thought it was about an innocent young girl in the 50’s. I actually didn’t know that I felt so strongly about class issues and sexism. Nor about sexual safety of young people. My main conscious focus was on her struggle to find a way through the internal and external restrictions. As a former therapist, it has always saddened me that many women, particularly in the 50’s, were denied natural pleasures because of a culture of ignorance and shame around female sexual activity. As well of course, of career advancement.
What I really enjoyed about Mitty’s character is how well developed she was but continued to transform throughout the novel. What were some obstacles you felt were important for Mitty’s character development?
Her main obstacle was the extreme shaming and ignorance of the fictional sect in the novel. Another strong obstacle was Mitty’s lack of anyone who could help her come to some knowledge and understanding. I loved Violet’s attempts to inform her. The struggle is linked to the development, through ups and downs, of her self-worth – another essential ingredient in a life of achievement, pleasure and love.
I think you did a great job of illustrating that female beauty and sexuality can often be a poisoned chalice. Why do you think this is an important, especially with today’s #metoo movement?
I was amused by Mitty’s character as a woman who was beautiful and sexually arousing without her knowing it. And heartened by her innate sensuality. Perhaps if young women were educated properly and allowed to have awareness and acceptance of these factors, they would be less vulnerable in the face of male assertion of power in all ways. A lot of work needs to be done to educate men, particularly in self-awareness.
In the sequel all these themes continue to build strong plot threads, together with some surprising twists in Mitty’s life path.
What life experiences of your own did you put into the novel, if any?
That’s a tricky question. A life experience of teacher and counselor helps to build a wide understanding. Personally, none of the events as depicted happened to me, although fragments of similar occurrences have been combined to build a different fictional history. For example, my much loved grandmother had overcome a restrictive religious background, while still quoting many homilies to me, with a wry smile. Otherwise, sometimes just a few words overheard will trigger a scene. So there is a basic truth in it all.
This is “a well-plotted tale of human growth, sexuality, and self-discovery which will be enjoyed by readers of women’s fiction and literary fiction alike.”
Mitty is a young girl brought up in a punitive sect who escapes to a typist job in the city – a step to fulfilling her dreams of being a lady. She is hampered by deep fears of hell and punishment, and utter ignorance of the facts of life.
The 1950’s – sex, drugs and rock and roll, but not in the small towns of Australia. There were lots of jobs, clothes and wealth in the cities but this threatened the values of the past – a culture where men desire and decide, while women love and serve.
Miss Mitty Bedford knew the outside world through Hollywood movies at the local Pictures, only to find in real life that there can be nasties behind smiling, beautiful faces.
A stalker’s attack clashes with her newfound joy in sensual self-discovery inspired by a crush on her boss, and her love for decent, loving, traditional Col. She writhes between shame, repentance and joy.
Mitty wants a career and respect, but what path must she choose? She needs love, but does she want freedom more?
This emotional and dramatic journey to win trust, love and independence, will keep readers turning the pages, as well as provoking questions that still apply today.
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Like Peaches and Pickles follows Georgia Davis as she fights to maintain her position in a work place that is quickly changing. Georgia has worked her whole life for her success. But just as her career goals are about to come to fruition the new University President hires an old friend of his. New Vice President Carl Overstreet quickly sets himself up to be the sour pickle in this story. Easily unlikable, but somehow, Georgia has a romantic connection with the man that the rest of the staff is plotting to overthrow. With her job on the line, and soon her reputation, Georgia is faced with the adage; when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
While Georgia Davis fights to maintain the success she has we get to see office politics play out in a entertaining yet believable way that leaves Georgia endearing. If you’ve ever worked in an office then you can easily place these characters into your own workplace. Far too often have I seen people like Carl Overstreet walk over people like Georgia Davis in my career. It’s nice that this book looks at those relationships and expands them in a story that moves along quickly with smart writing and easy prose.
While Carl sets out to, seemingly, directly offend everyone, somehow, Georgia has romantic feelings for him. I don’t want to ruin things here so I won’t say more, but I will say that things don’t end up the way you think they might, which was a nice plot twist for me and one of those small examples that kept me turning pages just to see what happens next.
Georgia is doing all that she can to remain a great team player and save the public face of the University. Unfortunately, members of her team have concocted a way to get the Vice President fired at the cost of their most valuable team member, Georgia. I enjoyed the soft of internal office war that breaks out as people begin to realize that others are plotting and scheming; that could end up giving the University a bad name.
I liked that this book felt familiar to me. It allowed me to easily empathize with the characters. It’s so hard not to give away so many juicy details here, but rest assured, you will want to read this book for yourself. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a great drama in a professional setting with a hint of romance.
Pages: 256 | ISBN: 1612969798
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From the Heart, by Sally Forest, is a series of six short stories about human passions and emotions, and how they come to the fore when average people face challenging circumstances. The characters range from a young girl in a troubled household to a group of women dealing with the realities of old age, all from various parts of Australia, the author’s home. With a background in both teaching and psychology, it’s not hard to see her interest in the human condition and how she might have a greater insight into it than most.
The stories certainly feature a wide range of social backgrounds and issues, providing a delightful variation for the reader. The narratives are easy to follow, with focused attention on the plot and a small cast of characters – the author has avoided the unnecessary description that can artificially extend a short story and make for long, boring reading.
At the same time, the writing does come across as almost a “write by numbers”, as all of the stories essentially follow the same traditional dramatic structure, including a sort of moral lesson, or insight, at their conclusion. However, there is a freshness provided by the solid inclusion of multiple female protagonists, who I consider more well-written than the few male ones. They are given realistic passions and thought processes, with their inner strengths shown as much as their perceived outer weaknesses. Sympathetic female characters are sadly hard to come by in fiction, even now, and I have to applaud any attempt to do so.
The choice of language is on the simple side, reflecting the characters’ ordinariness and making it accessible to read. There has been a clear effort to match language use to particular characters as well, such as the descriptions in Mouse Mat; situations are compared to the toys and balloons that would be familiar to the young protagonist narrating it. For non-Australian readers, it’s worth noting the odd piece of dialect included in the collection, although it generally doesn’t distract from the work – skerrick was a new word for me at least!
Mouse Mat was probably my favourite of the stories; my least favourite was Heart Buddies. It is very dialogue-heavy, which is hard to get through, but the paragraphing could also be improved to clarify who is talking and when. This story also includes errors, although not related to the quality of the narrative, still detracts from the work for me – some missed words and punctuation.
From the Heart is a pleasant read. It provides a window into human emotion and how people deal with difficulties in their lives. There are plenty of situations to sympathise with and think about long after reading – the stories are memorable for all of the right reasons.
Pages: 56 | ASIN: B07797S3ZV
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Mitty Bedford is a young woman who has spent her life under the rule of a god-fearing sect, including the indomitable and vindictive Aunt Charity. Escaping to the city to become a typist, she meets the kind and loving Col. But she is conflicted; her sexuality has been repressed and she is laden with feelings of shame and fear. As she sets out on her journey to self-discovery and independence in 1950’s Australia, she comes up against the sexism and classism of the day. To truly be free, she must challenge others’ prejudices and fight her own inner demons.
Choose Snakes or Ladders by Sally Forest is a book of many themes; love and loss, religion, shame, trauma, memory, gender, sexuality and the questionable nature of truth. Forest deals with these complex and universal topics with sensitivity and skill. Through her writing, she asks us to question our own biases and consider how relevant these issues are today.
Forest excels at writing place and her prose conjures up the setting of New South Wales incredibly well. Her descriptions of the seasons are particularly beautiful; the dirt, pollution and heat of summer mirror Mitty’s feelings of oppression and add to an atmosphere of heaviness, whilst the freshness of autumn coincides with Mitty’s new found confidence. Forest also invokes the time period expertly, and I enjoyed the references to old films and magazines which gave some historical context and showed how influential the invention of advertising and the media was on thoughts and behaviour at the time.
Mitty is an utterly believable and well-realised character. Much of the book consists of her internal dialogue, which gives us insight into her feelings of guilt and shame and makes her very relatable. She wants to be attractive to men and enjoys their gaze but she is also afraid of it and fears repercussions. Forest illustrates that female beauty and sexuality can be a poisoned chalice in a society where only women are castigated for the outcome of these things (this clearly has modern resonance too). The prejudice and ignorance of certain characters are well-drawn and had me seething with anger!
The dialogue is predominately realistic and natural. Forest uses dialect for some of her characters- possibly to infuse more authenticity into the narrative- but I would have liked a little less of this as it came off as contrived at times and distracted me from the flow of the narrative. Although there is quite a steady pace to the book, I occasionally felt that Mitty’s day to day life was rather repetitive and that the plot could have done with a little more substance. There was definitely enough suspense to keep me intrigued though, and I think that any plot issues were reconciled by Forest’s use of prose and by her complex and likeable characters.
Ultimately, this is a book about redemption. It is a moving and beautifully written story, which although full of challenging themes, eventually filled me with hope.
Pages: 213 | ASIN: B075PXBHTZ
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