Writing review: “Candlepower” – the art of literature

I’ve just read with great enjoyment “Candlepower” by Janet Doolaege – a contemporary novel full of mystery and intrigue. Stella lives in a small apartment in Paris where – through the close-knit of modern living – she gets to know her neighbours Rose and the dark-eyed Olivier with whom she falls in love. Rose, a figure of strange powers it seems, has a curious connection with birds and a bizarre effect on anything electrical. This uneasy triangle of friendship, subtly threaded with an underlying tension and a sense of the paranormal, makes the ordinary and the everyday seem edgy, unpredictable and even a little dangerous.

And Ms Doolaege has the remarkable ability to make you think about these ordinary and everyday things in a different way. That is what literature is all about. The difference between a story – and a story that communicates something beyond the story. The term ‘literary” has nothing to do with high-brow intellectual waffle as so many believe – but rather reflects in the little gems Ms Doolaege has weaved delicately through the narrative.

There is Stella’s strained relationship with her family in England which translates into how we often perpetuate old hurts with the smallest nudge of memory. There is the nature of friendship: what does it mean to be a good friend? What does it mean to really care? There is the paranormal: what does it mean to be genuinely gifted with powers that other people don’t understand – the prejudice, the fear, the distrust an individual may have to bear for simply being different. There is also reflection on the impact of civilization on nature: how does the way we live affect other creatures who have equal claim to our spaces? And then there is romance – the raw truth between imagination and reality, and how we often misinterpret the feelings of others.

For those who would enjoy an original, well-paced and well-written mystery with an unexpected literary slant, “Candlepower” is definitely one to pick up.

Find ‘Candlepower’ on Amazon here:  http://tiny.cc/pedtcx

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Review: ‘Latitudes – A Story of Coming Home’

Here is a book beautifully constructed and crafted. Every sentence balanced, whole and relevant. ‘Latitudes – A Story of Coming Home’ by Anthony Caplan, evinces a poignant undertone of things lost and emotion suppressed; a story about a family separated by latitudes but never fully disconnected. On the separation of his parents, Will develops a steady cool exterior, a defensive distance between his circumstances and the behavior of his parents. Every event, however seemingly innocuous, can affect character and development. What I gleaned by the end of this beautifully written story, was that life itself is our teacher regardless of circumstances; basic character is built from adversity and from what we need to gain for ourselves. There is no doubt in my mind that Will’s experiences slowly strengthened him. At the end we know Will can deal with any kind of situation. Separation from his mother and sisters was both devastating and in some strange way, releasing. His father’s disinterest gave him the freedom (the latitude) to find his way to independence. And yet, right at the end he breaks down at his mother’s funeral and cries and cannot stop – and there we see fruition of that poignant undertone – the hidden damage that dysfunctional family brings. Will is starved of attention, always searching for that elusive element in his life which he cannot quite pinpoint; love. Understanding its lack, the implications of its loss in his life, is the key to coming home to that place beyond childhood we call adulthood. And author Anthony Caplan journeys us there with insight, empathy and style.

Indie writing. Review: Death and the Dream

I have just finished reading this superb collection of short stories by Indie author JJ Brown. For me, five stars plus one! Each story works around the concept of death – how it surrounds us in everyday life and affects us on all levels from the subconscious to dangerously close. The writing is haunting, poetic, graphic yet portrayed with an artist’s touch. There is an intriguing mix of science, New York City and characters whose minds seem to drift dream-like, a little out of touch with reality – or maybe too closely entwined with their own.

Beautifully written, perfectly balanced and paced, each story is different and completely compelling; poignant, disturbing, shocking and subtly underpinned with touches of pure horror. All fourteen stories are of equal calibre – so it’s hard to choose a favourite. I think I would go for Rabbit Nightmare  for its creepy off-centre feeling of vulnerability, loneliness and sense of loss. Mouse Chimera is way up there for the truly horrific told in a rather matter-of-fact manner by a scientist slowly losing her mind in the pitiless nature of her work. But then I loved Rain Dream – a clever, unsettling story with the feeling of imminent disaster and the gentle sway of one too many glasses of red wine!

This is top class professional work from a writer who has mastered the delicate and difficult art of the short story. Highly recommend.

You can find “Death and the Dream” on Amazon here

Indie writing: Review ‘Heart’s Promise’

‘Heart’s Promise’ by Jeanette Hornby is a deceptively gentle book about pre-adolescent and early teenage romance.

Through a series of frames of ordinary life, we meet Milly when she is only eleven years old and already feeling the pangs of attraction and shyness with regard to the boy next door. The reader is taken on that old, familiar roller-coaster ride of first love awakening, and reminds us how these experiences are often the fundamental lessons in honesty, integrity and family values.

Set in Australia in the early seventies, this is a story of a small community, migrant labour, broken families, religious differences and racial prejudices, friendship and loyalty; and children struggling to find their own identity in the see-saw of adult relationships. We see everything through Milly’s eyes, becoming involved in her growing infatuation with the handsome Flynn – a seemingly insignificant and everyday scenario when played out against the broader backdrop of domestic dramas and winds of social change; but for Milly, in the tender teenage years, this is the driving focus in her life.

The novel skilfully portrays a young girl on the brink of sexual awareness and adult emotions; her conflicting feelings, her first kiss, the tumult of jealousy and betrayal, the reality of loss and grief.

What I liked about this book was the quiet, easy style of writing, cleverly introducing the more serious underlying issues of class, dysfunctional families, and the dangers faced when growing up – all within the framework of ordinary life. At the end of the book, I was loath to leave Milly and Flynn, they had built so strongly in my mind. This is a story for young and old, universal in appeal. A real trip down memory lane

Indie Writing: Review ‘Grimsley Hollow’

‘Grimsley Hollow – The Chosen One’ by Nicole Storey is first in a fantasy series for children. A key element which separates it from others in the genre is the lead character Gage, a young boy who is  autistic.  While this is a delightful tale entertaining in its own right – it has the unique angle of seeing events through the eyes of a boy who struggles to make friends in his own world, but achieves this easily in the magical world of Grimsley Hollow.

Written with passion and imagination, Grimsley Hollow has all the enchantment of a fairy tale combined with elements of epic fantasy. Intriguing, finely-drawn characters bring the extraordinary world of Grimsley Hollow to life. You will love Gage’s hideaway in the woods where he first meets a werewolf, a witch and a vampire. Imbued with magical powers which at first he doesn’t understand, Gage is called upon to help his new friends eject a wicked witch who has taken control of Grimsley Hollow. Ms Storey spares us nothing: from wolves, witches, vampires to dragons, pixies and the foul smelling, evil-eyed bejangs, you are taken on a breathtaking journey in the age-old fight of good against evil. Grimsley Hollow is Halloween come to your doorstep; the wicked glint of a pumpkin eye; the mystery of the woods in the moonlight. You’d better wear your lucky witch’s hat when you read this one. You’re gonna need it!

Here’s the link to Grimsley Hollow – The Chosen One http://tiny.cc/eup21w

 

Fantasy writing: the ghosts within us

A while ago I was clearing out my cluttered desk and came across an old manuscript of a YA novel I’d written in the early nineties. It was quite odd to feel the weight of it in my hand, to look at words I’d labored over for around two to three years – and realise I’d forgotten all about it. Yet at the time, it had consumed my life. It had been my drive, my compulsion, my raison d’etre.

Right there, sitting on the floor, I began to read – and became immersed in my own story. I read it as though it had nothing to do with me. The words, the sentences, the strange worlds I’d created became freshly remade in my new reader mind. And as I read, I became aware that everything in the story was based on my childhood yearning for something scary: witches, goblins and hidden places in the malignant shadows of mushrooms and twisted roots.

What is it that makes us search for the odd and the unreal? Perhaps there is some dim remembrance stamped into our history, our bones, our genes; a hardly connected ancient psyche still driven by firelight shapes on a cave wall. When did we first begin to believe there were unknown worlds to be revealed at any moment by a cosmic sign or some cataclysmic event? Our imagination – well before anything approaching civilization – was busy. Every object we couldn’t explain became a source of power and magic: strangely shaped stones, reflections in rock pools, rainbows, comets and the crisp patterns of stars.

I wonder what techniques were used by early storytellers to hold their audience spellbound around the fire: humour – maybe; romance – hardly; monsters that lurked in crooked rocks and the black bark of a dead tree – oh, yes! Fear – the very nature of it – carries little punch without the threat of violence. For every notch we made up the ladder of control over our environment, the more entertaining those scary stories around the fire became.  We could be scared, but we didn’t have to be blind with terror. We had our weapons and the power of inquiring minds. We could test limits – and race home shrieking with excitement as that rotten ghoul lurched from the dark but naturally, failed to get us. The frightening elements were all still there, but we had kinda grown up.

As a child I wanted those stories – I wanted to see what was in the back of the cave, under the rock or deep in the murky depths of a silent pool. I loved any story with a ghost, a witch, or something that couldn’t quite be seen in the dark. And these stories were best under a blanket at night with a torch. We could turn our minds back to the firelight in the cave – safe in a place and time that assured us such things were not so but still wanting to enjoy the possibility.

Growing up in South Africa, I never experienced Halloween. But I read about it in comics – and I loved it. Does anyone remember Little Lulu and the witch? I hardly read the other stories. It was the witch I wanted. The secret mystery magic of the witch. She had knowledge of those unknown things hovering on the furthest rim of collective memory.

Writers have old souls, I think; imaginations that still nurture vivid memory of rearing imagery in flickering flames. And fantasy writers in particular have developed the ability to scratch away our veneer of civilization and find those ticklish spots of old  fear; that moment when you’re just too far from home and the stinky, foul-breathed thing in the dark has caught the scent of blood. And you’re running, plunging through the woods in terror.

Instinctive, primitive fear of shadows is still relevant in our delicately layered minds; hair-raising, sense-sharpening, and mesmerizing with breathless intrigue. As vibrant in the freshly mowed backyard as on the cave wall.

And ain’t that just the best fun ever?

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