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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The Consort Conspiracy follows Kate who travels to to Georgia to cover a story only to get embroiled in the towns dark history. What was your inspiration for this thrilling novel?
The inspiration for this novel is actually one of my favorite parts of the story. While I have been a writer in some form or another my whole life, I had never done much with it other than a couple of short stories and poems. But I visited the Midway Cemetery in Georgia–yes, it’s a real place–in 1997 because I knew it contained the graves of signers of The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. I went there for the history. But as I wandered the oldest part of the cemetery, I stumbled upon the Robarts family plot with death dates in the early 1700s. One grave was for the wife of William Robarts and right next to her grave was that of Ann Evelyn Robarts, listed as “The Consort” of William. My first thought was indignation, since I interpreted “consort” to mean “mistress” (my research later told me, however, that “consort” was simply another name for “spouse”). My second thought was of deep sorrow when I read the epitaph that stated she was only seventeen-years-old when she died and was buried with her two infant daughters. Immediately, my mind started spinning with a myriad of jumbled thoughts that ranged from “Oh how horrible to die so young with so much to look forward to,” all the way to “This happened so long ago…how could anyone today be certain that these deaths actually happened the way it’s written here…what if one of the little girls had lived?” I felt so strongly about it, it was as if Ann Evelyn, herself, had reached out from the grave. A story began to take shape in my heart…and it was one I knew I had to tell.
This book was filled with lots of great twists. Did you plan these or did they develop organically as you were writing?
The main twist about Kate’s ancestral roots was the first one I thought of and, in fact, in the very first iteration of this story–written long hand on four yellow legal tablet sheets for an early writing class–developed that one twist and only covered the crypt and its contents. As my writing instructor and friends encouraged me to expand on the story, I knew that more things needed to happen and be intricately woven together. I needed to figure out what caused Katherine to die at such a young age in the first place–yes, women did die of childbirth all the time back then, but that was too easy–and not very exciting in a thriller. So the reason Katherine died led to the story line of not only the circumstances prior to her death, but also of what catapulted the Penningtons into the most powerful political position in the world. And once that happened, the events that transpired to bring them karmic justice–family come-uppance, if you will–also spawned a story line. All of the other twists simply presented themselves to me “organically,” as you said, in the course of the writing.
I enjoyed how each character had their own voice and was meticulously developed. What were some themes you wanted to capture while writing your characters?
I really love it that you asked that question because as a writer, one of my fears has always been that people will think my characters are shallow. I have been thrilled to find out that’s not the case. The characters in the two-hundred-year-old story were probably the easiest to write because I believe they follow typical character themes from the period–the strong, silent “leading man” who was a pillar of the community until he experienced his downfall, the sweet naïve young bride/mother who steadfastly refused to believe there was evil in any of her associates, the evil-doers who were only out to benefit themselves, regardless of the cost to others, and the salt of the earth folks–primarily Jewel, in this case–who kept things moving with undying love and loyalty and a steady hand. One of the characters I especially enjoyed writing was Lucilla, from the older story. One of my editors suggested I tone down her surliness and some other aspects of her character, but I fought to keep her the way she was. She needed to do everything she did in order to maintain at least semi-equal footing with Caleb in their sinister plot. Kate’s character had initially been written in a more literary style–more formal speech and fewer glimpses into her internal insecurities. But when I turned in a writing assignment in an advanced writing course using a “girlfriend ” type voice, my instructor wrote on the top of my paper that she really liked that voice and that I should incorporate it into my writing. So I did…which also led to a massive re-write to change Kate’s part of the story from third person POV to first person POV. And after that, Kate became much more fun to spend time with.
What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?
My next book is the first in a new series about two new families–the Sinclairs and the Maguires–and takes place in North Carolina, just a few miles east of Asheville–I’ll pick back up on Kate and her friends in a later book. We are still negotiating on this one, but expect it to be out in 2018. Here’s a teaser:
In 1947, JEFFREY SINCLAIR, hidden in his family’s mansion, sneaks from his safe place on his eighth birthday and witnesses his father’s murder. Almost seventy years later, MATTIE MAGUIRE the fourth generation of the working class family whose lives have been intertwined with the wealthy Sinclair family, attempts to fulfill her lifelong fantasy of buying the old mansion. But her plans fall apart when she learns that the mystery shrouding the earlier murder has also clouded the identity of the property’s true heir. Worse, in her research to clear the title, she uncovers some troubling information that points to the involvement of her beloved grandfather, MICHAEL MAGUIRE, into the earlier murder that, if made public, would put her whole family in danger. Suddenly, nothing matters beyond protecting her loved ones and clearing her family name. It’s up to Mattie, accompanied by an unlikely source, to unravel her grandfather’s involvement, discover the true Sinclair heir–hidden away for decades–and return him to his rightful place, where together, he and Mattie finally reveal the family’s long-held secrets, along with the identity of the true killer.
For almost two hundred years an ancient cemetery, deep in the lowlands of Georgia, has protected the identity of an infamous, brutal murderer, whose act of betrayal changed the course of the town’s history. Now, eight generations later, MIDWAY CEMETERY conceals the activities of international conspirators engaged in a fast moving counterfeiting ring operating right under the noses of the slow-paced Midway residents.
Thirty-one-year old Bostonian KATE COVINGTON travels to Midway to film a documentary intended to increase the favorability ratings for the current United States President, WILFORD PENNINGTON, who was born in Midway and descended from the murdered victim from two hundred years earlier. As she becomes enthralled with the town’s history, Kate uncovers the truth about the murder of the President’s ancestor. Her discovery also leads to her learning the truth behind her own mother’s death and eventually changes not only the town’s history, but Kate’s future as well.
Posted in Interviews
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The future will crumble as history re-writes itself in the great time travel apocalypse.
It is the year 2258 when nineteen year old China Winter discovers her ability to cross the veil between worlds. On a quest to find her missing brother Maddox, she finds herself summoned by the father of time travel – Nikola Tesla to help save the whole of humanity; both past and future souls. China must sacrifice so much as she is dragged ever deeper into a treacherous and eternal time war.
Stepping back in time from her steampunk-esque existence, China finds herself caught up in the most incredible battles. Every army that ever existed can materialise in the wrong time or place, at any given moment to lay siege upon the earth. Slipping back and forth between the mists of time, history re-writes itself, playing havoc on the very fabric of reality. Can she survive the world of hauntings, poltergeist manifestations and time slips to save the universe from complete obliteration?
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With a start in Berlin, 1945, The Immortality Trigger launches into present day, hurtling between Europe, South America and Africa with a gripping pace.The author, Douglas Misquita, is moved to write large-scale thrillers, and with the second book in this series, surely achieves that goal. Not only is this book vast and well-written, the story it tells picks angles with many appeals.
The Immortality Trigger clips along as expected being at heart an action-thriller and were it not for the hook at the beginning taking place during the closing years of the Second World War that hinted at monstrous experiments, it may be too stuck in one genre. But for fans of fast-paced modern tales with global reach that dabble in history, this is a perfect storm. Having the hint of science fiction gives the story a cross-genre feel, and the monstrous brutality at once has an otherworldly feel while being rooted in our dark reality. Turning the news on the right channel, and you will see how timely and accurate these atrocities are. All of them. From the experiments that took place in wartime Germany to the extermination happening in countries from east to west alike, the author offers some guide to fact at the end of the book.
From the outset, we follow INTERPOL agent, Sabina Wytchoff. Her grandfather has succumbed to cancer and his wish of being stored cryogenically has just been carried out. In his safe lay ties to an ancient society still very active today. Too active, as the bombing incident that killed her parents only a week before may be involved somehow.
Illegal fight rings delight in the superhuman strength of Luc Fortesque and it seems being more than human is something of a problem. He’s not the only one. An experimental and unstable drug he was given may make him a star in the ring, but Luc won’t rest until he’s found the transhumanist faction responsible. He may be an army of one, but there are armed and demented soldiers between him and his goal.
Colombian newspapers have been blaring the face-off between drug-lord El Fantasma and their rival, El Angel, who will stop at nothing to bring down the cartels. After a vicious and heart-stopping fight – in the middle of a bust free-way in daylight – a terrible clue is left bleeding in the leg of El Fantasma; a silver dagger. With no clue how this Nazi war relic came into El Angel’s possession, the threads begin to draw together when everyone involved needs answers.
By the midpoint of the book it seems nearly impossible for these factions with their very different worlds to be pieces of the same puzzle, but readers will delight in how problems new and old have become entangled.
Overuse of jargon, while inevitable in a story that deals with military language, is much more noticeable in the beginning of the book. Nearing the middle, it is either not as glaring or has been quelled. Using the same word four times in one paragraph never sounds right, however, and there are a few points where this is troublesome. Very tightly written otherwise, going from lush landscapes to cities, drug-fuelled frenzies to tense negotiations. For fans of epic thrillers, Douglas Misquita may well be the next binge read. With many previous books, this new series reads like a flashy blockbuster film, so it must be worth it to see where this author has come from. The cast is large, though not entirely dizzying so just enough to feel like a realized world of people but still keep track of all the players. While there is a little tedium in jargon, having a near Lucha Libre feel to the Colombian stand-off, the ghosts of Nazi Germany and pharma-infused soldiers leering from the shadows knocks this all closer to a perfect action novel for fans of bleak, realistic and dark action.
Pages: 386 | ASIN: B077GHCT7X
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A Deal With God: The Power of One, written by Michael Haden, tells the tale of two sweethearts Rebeccah Johnson and Leon Samuels who fates are intertwined after a romantic summer night. But tragedy is to strike the family, leaving the three children without a mother and a broken husband who feels lost and alone. A deal struck with God means a beautiful woman, Deana Murphy, will enter their life; destined to help the family in their darkest days. Faith, love and admiration will blossom as Deana helps the family in ways they would least expect.
A Deal With God is a love story unlike no other as it delves into the complexity of families, grief and having faith in God’s plan. Prepare to fall in love with the characters as you laugh, cry and experience their accomplishments right by their side.
Matthew, Mark and Luke are Rebeccah’s and Leon’s sons. A premonition about their son Mark sees God sending a woman by the name of Deana Murphy to enter their lives. We learn about Deana’s life and her hardships at the beginning of the story which builds a beautiful persona for the reader. Deana has experienced suffering and pain that only few could endure and in a twist of fate, makes a deal with God to save her life. Through her everlasting endurance and commitment to her faith, Deana begins her life and recovery in the town of Dothan, Georgia. Her faith is inspiring as she takes on incredible responsibilities and weaves her way into a complicated life.
The themes in the book can be quite emotional and complex at times, creating a sense of urgency to find out what happens and whether the characters recover from their trauma. For these reasons, prepare to sit down and read the entire book in one sitting as it is easy to read, like a “I must know what happens” kind of story. The plot line is fast-paced but still stops to describe delightful outfits or luscious food that will leave your mouth watering. It also details sporting events, pulling it away from the romantic plot line and giving the reader a sense of adventure and energy.
A Deal With God explores the different dynamics that occur within families and how different people respond and react to death. It will push the reader to consider how their family dynamic may be affected by death and grief, or how you may feel when a wonderful stranger mysteriously walks into your life. The book is based on the traditions and beliefs of Christianity and I appreciated the real-life experiences the characters endured and how they continued their faith regardless of the tests that God threw their way.
Pages: 345 | ASIN: B006L9LG7U
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The world of Androva, where magic rules. Galen is the best underage magician for millennia, much to the dismay of the power hungry Professor Cassius. In the name of research, Galen and his friend, the talented but troubled Nico, begin opening time travelling portals to other worlds. Galen finds himself on Terra where he meets the beautiful Claudia. He wants to stay with her forever but the arrival of Jax and Shannon from two thousand years in the future changes everything. Galen must now return to fight for the lives of his friends and family. But will they survive magic?
Alex C. Vick has built a rich and enchanting world of spells and sorcery in Surviving Magic. Classic themes of love, good vs. evil, and the importance of friendship run through the story, but they seem fresh and innovative in the hands of the author due to an exciting plot, diverse settings and interesting characters.
Vick evokes place very well, and the juxtaposition of the two worlds of Terra and Androva is expertly done. The setting of ancient Italy is an interesting plot device that really works, as real historical events such as the revolt of Boudicca are seamlessly interwoven with magic. Vick also excels here with her use of tangible imagery; I felt as though I was strolling through the bustling streets of Pompeii!
The book is written in first person narrative from Galen’s perspective. He is a flawed, but likeable hero and the love story between him and Claudia is heartfelt and authentic. The other less central characters are well-drawn, they all have distinctive voices and Vick’s use of dialogue adds humour and lightness to otherwise dramatic situations. Because we observe the full story arc of the characters in this book, I really came to care about their individual fates. Nico’s development is particularly interesting due to the complex nature of his internal struggles and motivations and the villain of the piece, Professor Cassius, is supremely creepy!
Vick has developed a very complex and creative system of magic, which adds multiple dimensions and interest to the story. The only downside to this is it’s slightly overwhelming to have sygnuses, symbols, spells, and force fields thrown at you over a couple of pages (pheeew!) I prefer to be shown rather than told what is happening and there is some occasional info-dumping. I sometimes felt like I was getting lost down a portal myself! Because of this, the pacing seems off to begin with and the narrative is somewhat lost. Generally, though, the dramatic scenes are excellent and kept me on the edge of my seat.
Surviving Magic becomes very much a standalone story, with originality and twists and turns galore. Overall, this is a great addition to the fantasy genre, and I look forward to more exciting adventures from the Legacy of Androva series.
Pages: 279 | ASIN: B076ZSTT2D
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“I’m not sure, but judging by our choices in literature, I think this makes us polar opposites.”
Karly Matthews has no idea how much truth there is to her statement after she first encounters Thayne Harper at a networking event: She is a medium, struggling to keep her store open after making enemies with a powerful executive set on destroying her career after Karly helps his wife leave him; Thayne is a skeptic, the descendant of a wealthy family in the hotel industry. Both, however, share a sizzling physical attraction for each other, as well as dark secrets that make it impossible for them to get close to anyone. Will Karly be able to keep her heart safe when she is hired to chase away a spirit haunting the bed and breakfast that Thayne is opening, especially when her job forces her to live under the same roof as him?
The plot of Haunted, written by Shari Nichols, is driven by a few different story lines. There, of course, is the romantic and professional tension between Karly and Thayne, and with that, many heated love scenes unfold that are sure to make one’s toes curl. Then there are the insecurities that Karly faces, having been in a serious relationship that ended so badly that she is quick to react jealously and expect the worst from men, especially Thayne, who is naturally charismatic and has had a reputation for courting many women. As difficult as it is for Karly to trust Thayne, he also cannot open up to her, having suffered the loss of someone close to him. He is under a lot of pressure to prove himself to his father, with whom he is estranged, by ensuring that his first hotel opening is successful. Unfortunately, a ghost seems set on sabotaging his plans.
While the story focuses mostly on Karly, as well as Thayne, there’s a lot happening in the novel, and details that are relevant to understanding their history are vague or not revealed until much later. This makes it difficult to fully empathize with Karly in her hesitation to start a relationship with Thayne. Karly’s fears of falling for Thayne would be more believable if she and Thayne would explain why they have such strong feelings for each other, besides the physical attraction they feel.
It is the mystery surrounding this ghost that is most interesting in Haunted. While Karly and Thayne are both dynamic characters who are easy to like, their romance is predictable, though entertaining to witness. The ghost haunting the Molverton Inn is complicated, seeking revenge and, at points, physically harming the people who cross her path. Karly’s job to eradicate such a stubborn spirit is not easy, and Nichols thoroughly explains the different steps a medium must take to protect the property and people, identify the spirit, and guide the spirit onto the next world. The mystery surrounding the identity of the spirit and how she became a ghost makes this book difficult to put down.
Haunted has many elements that make this book an exciting read. It is well-written; Nichols describes the characters and settings in a way that flows naturally with the action, and the way she paces the story builds suspense. She incorporates realistic dialogue, and the conversations between Karly and her sister are particularly witty and entertaining. Nichols creates complex characters with unique personalities, and readers cannot help but cheer on Karly in her quest to rid the Molverton Inn of a stubborn spirit and find happiness with Thayne.
Pages: 329 | ASIN: B077RMGLDM
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Losing a parent is painful. It is earth shattering and completely disabling. Lucas Tremaine’s loss was due to negligence at Drax Enterprises. Even more than that, his mother was left dependent on valium to look remotely sane. He wished he could bring them to book but Drax is a big corrupt entity, what can one little guy do? He wished more than anything to exact revenge on the people who did harm to his family. Lucas wished all kinds of discomfort and unhappiness for the people who caused his father’s death. So blinded by the quest for revenge, it sometimes impairs his ability to properly collect and analyze the evidence.
Drax Enterprises will not pay for their sins in the conventional way, so Lucas needs to do some unconventional and dangerous things to get justice served. With the help of Reuben Klein, his best friend, they search the old underground subway system of the city of Cincinnati. The further they explore, the more sinister and complicated the corruption and fascism of Drax Enterprises gets. Lucas, Reuben and everyone who is near and dear to Lucas is in danger. Will Lucas find what he so desperately seeks? Will Drax Enterprises eventually pay for their sins? After facing three generations of Drax Enterprises leadership, will Lucas escape unscathed?
Follow Me Down by Gordon MacKinney is an intelligent thriller with a lot of ironic situations and lively conversations. The characters are complex but still relatable. Lucas’ need for vengeance is understandable to anyone and the reader will find himself rooting for him. This book is an interesting look into the lives of urban explorers. The reader gets to explore an underground rail systems not yet explored. The authors research and attention to detail is evident with the historical accuracy of the story. Gordon MacKinney’s description of the scenes is vivid and instantly transports the reader. One can almost smell the heavy air inside the tunnels. The love stories therein are especially heartwarming. The love between father and son is a beautiful narrative that is developed throughout the book. His admiration and love for his former boss and photojournalist, Alfred Blumenfeld, feels organic and true. I truly appreciated the authenticity of the character relationships in this novel.
Action, suspense and treasure hunts are among the simple pleasures. The adventures of Lucas’ endeavor are captivating and make for a great read. The end reveals a side of Tony Drax that you least expect, but makes for a good ending to the story.
Pages: 260 | ASIN: B0779GCH3V
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The Literary Titan Book Awards are awarded to books that have astounded and amazed us with unique writing styles, vivid worlds, complex characters, and original ideas. These books deserve extraordinary praise and we are proud to acknowledge the hard work, dedication, and imagination of these talented authors.
Gold Award Winners
Silver Award Winners
Posted in Interviews
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