My spoiler free thoughts on Star Wars The Force Awakens

Star Wars The Force Awakens

When I’m really looking forward to seeing a film I try my best to avoid any mention of it before going to see it. I don’t want to know If people enjoyed it, didn’t enjoy it, and I certainly don’t want to know any plot details. In this post I won’t mention any plot points or give anything away, however I will mention how it made me feel. If this is too much for you, please stop reading now and come back once you’ve seen the film.

I mean it, this is your very last chance.

Good, then let me begin with some context.

I was six years old when I first saw Star Wars in early 1978. It wasn’t the first film I’d seen at the cinema but it was the one that left the greatest impression. My father, having just worked a long shift in the local paint factory, took me and my older sister to our local cinema. My memories of the occasion are a little vague having been blurred by repeated viewings but the main thing I remember is the sheer fun and adrenaline rush of it all. It was all my childhood adventures thrown up onto the big screen but much cooler than what my imagination could conjure up. It was big, brash and exciting. I really wanted to be Luke Skywalker. He was young, handsome, got to fly X-wing fighters and fought with a lightsaber. What was not to like?

My father, meanwhile, slept through the whole thing.

For months afterwards all I did was play Star Wars, and although I didn’t know it at the time, a life-long love affair with Star Wars was born. Star Wars had a major impact on my life in other ways, too. I first became close to my best friend (who became my best man) because he had an X-wing fighter and Tie-fighter toys.

As I got older my I came to appreciate the whole trilogy. My allegiance changed to Han Solo, wishing I could be as cool as him with his rebellious streak and his witty one-liners, and I found myself preferring the darker, more nuanced, Empire Strike Back over both Star Wars and Return of the Jedi. There were some parts of the later prequels I enjoyed but generally they were a disappointment. They were plodding, poe-faced, and took themselves far too seriously. Story and emotion were replaced by CGI special effects and set piece battles; snappy dialogue replaced by long, dull exposition. The films were interesting from a completist’s perspective, but somewhere along the way George Lucas had mislaid his creation’s heart and soul.

With Star Wars – The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams has delivered a film that is fun, funny and exhilarating, and made this middle-aged man feel like a six-year-old again.

From the moment the classic Star Wars text slowly made its way up the screen until the final credits (the one piece of information I will give away is that you don’t need to stay until the credits finish rolling, there’s no sneak clip at the end), I was enthralled.  I laughed, giggled, even let out the odd squee – something a middle-aged man shouldn’t do when attending a cinema on his own – as this unashamedly nostalgic ride progressed. This was the Star Wars movie I’d been waiting for for over thirty years.

It isn’t a perfect piece of film-making – neither were the original trilogy. It is gloriously bonkers in places, breaks many storytelling rules, and there are some parts that won’t hold up well to too much scrutiny, but it does perfectly capture the essence of what made that original trilogy so successful. Finally the moribund prequels are consigned to history. Star Wars – The Force Awakens brings back everything I loved about the original film. It has heart, it has soul, and it was the most fun I’ve had in a cinema for a long time.

The force is strong with this one.

So what do you think? Have you seen Star Wars – The Force Awakens? Did you enjoy it? Are you looking forward to seeing it or are you really not bothered? I’d love to hear from you.

Please keep things spoiler free and respect those that have yet to see the film. I will be moderating the comments more than usual.

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

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Recommended Reads: Ratcatcher by Tim Stevens

Ratcatcher

This book was recommended to me by Kate from the Roughseasinthemed blog. As she is very discerning about the books she recommends (ahem), I didn’t think twice before downloading it, which goes to show that personal recommendations are always the best way to promote a book.

The Description

Purkiss’s job is straightforward. Track down agents of the intelligence services who are taking kickbacks, committing crimes, or otherwise abusing their positions. And bring them to justice.

Straightforward doesn’t mean easy…

After a renegade British former spymaster, Fallon, is sighted in the Baltic city of Tallinn on the eve of a historic summit meeting between the Russian and Estonian presidents, Purkiss is despatched to investigate, and uncovers a conspiracy that threatens to tear Europe, and the world, apart.

But Purkiss has personal reasons for going after Fallon. Four years ago, Fallon was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Purkiss’s fiancée, a murder Purkiss himself witnessed.

Now, in an atmosphere of treachery and sudden violence, as the countdown begins to a potentially catastrophic conflict between Russia and the West, Purkiss must keep his desire for revenge under control for the sake of the world’s – and his own – survival.

 

The Review

Sent to Tallinn to hunt the man who killed his fiancée, John Purkiss finds himself ensnared in a post-Soviet terrorist plot which if successful, could start another world war. But what can one man do? Quite a lot it turns out, if the man’s name is Purkiss.

As spy thrillers go, Ratcatcher is less Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and follows very much in the tradition of James Bond. It is pure entertainment from the start and the main character, Purkiss,  is an unabashed alpha male fantasy figure. When faced with an easy or hard option, Purkiss will always take the one with most danger, and while the gadgets may be very much based in the real world, the action is pure fantasy. However Stevens while some suspension of disbelief is required, Stevens manages to introduce enough realism for each situation to maintain its plausibility.

The only criticisms I have with the book is that Stevens uses passive voice a lot (a particular bugbear of mine) and I found some of the fight scenes overly descriptive, but none of this takes away from the overall fun you’ll have reading this book. If you’ve read every Bond and are looking for a modern replacement, Ratcatcher is the book for you. Highly recommended.

 

 

To buy Ratcatcher from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Ratcatcher from Amazon.com click here

 

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

Recommended Reads: My Father and Other Liars by Geoff Le Pard

My father and other liars final for kindle 6 July

I recently interviewed Geoff Le Pard about the writing of his new book, My Father and Other Liars (you can read part 1 of the interview here, and part 2 here). At the time of the interview I was reading the novel, so I didn’t give an opinion on whether I liked it or not. However, I’ve now finished it and needless to say I enjoyed it very much. Here’s my review.

Disclaimer: I know Geoff Le Pard, first through blogging and over time he’s become a friend I’ve met on a number of occasions. This hasn’t affected my review in any way (and he’d be horrified if it had) but I like to be open about these type of things.

The Description

When British freelancer Maurice Oldham saves American scientist Lori-Ann Beaumont from a pack of journalists at a pro-life conference in San Francisco, neither expects to see the other again. But six months on, Lori-Ann is on Maurice’s doorstep, bruised, penniless and desperate to find her boyfriend, Peterson, who has gone missing in England.

Maurice soon realises nothing is as it seems with Lori-Ann. Why is she chasing Peterson; why has her father, Pastor of the Church of Science and Development sent people to bring her home; what is behind the Federal Agency who is investigating Lori-Ann’s workplace in connection with its use of human embryos; and what happened in Nicaragua a quarter of a century ago that is echoing down the years? For Maurice and Lori-Ann the answers lie somewhere in their Fathers’ pasts.

Finding those answers will take Lori-Ann and Maurice from England via America to Nicaragua; in so doing they will have to confront some uncomfortable truths about their Fathers and learn some surprising things about themselves.

The Review

My Father and Other Liars is a thoughtful, thought-provoking novel about the impact parents (fathers in this case) have on the lives of their children, set to the backdrop of tele-evangelism and the medical ethics of cutting-edge genetic research. When Maurice Oldham attends a Pro-life rally looking for a story to prove himself to his absentee father, he soon becomes entangled in a ruthless power-play involving politics, science and religion stretching between the USA, Nicaragua and the UK, with the beguiling Pastor’s daughter Lori-Ann Beaumont at the centre.

As a federal investigation threatens the very existence of the church, and with people being killed to keep their silence, will Maurice be able to get to the truth of the dark secret at the heart of the Church of  Science and Development, or is he being manipulated by Lori-Ann to find her own truth about what happened in Nicaragua 25 years before?

On the surface this is a fast paced, twisty-turns mystery novel with relatable protagonists set in a very believable world of political and religious intrigue, however underpinning it all are the questions around how religion fits into the modern world, the grey ethical  areas at the boundaries of scientific advance, as well as the more human tale of how children’s lives are impacted upon and shaped by the actions of their parents.

One of my fears in starting this novel was that this subject matter could easily lead to a one-dimensional portrayal depending on the author’s personal opinions, yet Le Pard manages to pull together the these themes with great sensitivity, without resorting to melodrama or cliché. It’s a testament to how well Le Pard did this that towards the end of the novel I found myself relating to characters whose own opinions I strongly disagree with, because I could understand their motivations for their actions and beliefs.

There were certain parts of the story I felt were overly complex and for me the jury’s out regarding the second ending, but overall I felt this was a well-written, thought-provoking  mystery with real depth. Recommended.

 

To buy My Father and Other Liars from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy My Father and Other Liars from Amazon.com click here

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

Why Amazon deleting reviews is a price worth paying

amazon_logo

Amazon is currently cracking down on what it sees as inaccurate or reciprocal reviews and it appears, at least from recent posts I’ve read, a number of authors have been affected. Amazon are using an algorithm to identify what they term as suspect reviewing patterns, as well as identify reviewers who they believe know each other, and blocking those reviews. Once blocked, because Amazon believe the reviews broke their reviewing terms and conditions, the reviewer can no longer leave any  future reviews. When challenged, Amazon have generally given automated responses along the lines of ‘we trust our algorithms and you have no right of appeal.’

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear I have every sympathy with the individuals concerned. Writing just one thoughtful book review takes time and effort, to do it over and over again is a considerable commitment. To be told, out of the blue, that everything you’ve written will be stripped from the site, would be one hell of a shock. Then there is the underlying accusation of cheating a system, one to which the reviewer has no right of reply, and the fact that once banned they can’t write any further reviews. It is being found guilty without trial and goes against everything we know as fair. Not only is it a personal affront, it means the authors of the books reviewed lose both the review and the rating as well. If (or possibly when) it happens to me, I would be furious too.

At the same time, Amazon has a problem. Customers no longer trust their review system and in some cases with justification. If you are selling a product on Amazon (any product, not just books) there are plenty of companies willing to give favourable reviews in return for a fee. The term for this type of behaviour is astroturfing and it happens on all the major sites where customer reviews play a part in the purchase decision making process. And it’s not just companies offering this service. I’ve been approached – both explicitly and implicitly – by authors asking to swap reviews. It hasn’t happened often, and I’ve always declined, but it does happen, and if a relatively obscure author such as myself has been approached then this is clearly something that some authors are happy to take part in. Astroturfing’s not a new process, it’s been happening since the first review sites were established and is employed by many companies large and small, but it has become so common in recent years it’s got to the point where customers have lost faith in product reviews.

The one thing you need to remember about Amazon is that their number one priority is to their customers. Everything they do is focussed on providing the best service to their customers. They are very good at this, and it’s the primary reason they have become so successful. Amazon regularly top the polls for best companies by as rated by consumers because they always put customers first, so it should come as no surprise that when their customers no longer trust the review system, Amazon decide to do something about it.

The problem for Amazon is how do they identify, out of the millions of products they sell and the tens or hundreds of millions of reviews on their system, which ones are the bad reviews. There are too many to analyse by person – I worked out that if you had one hundred million reviews and 1% were seen as problematic, it would take over one hundred man years to check them all – and it’s pure cost as far as Amazon are concerned. And it’s not easy. If you look at the books I’ve highlighted as Recommended Reads, each with a corresponding review on Amazon and Goodreads, almost all are by authors I don’t know personally, one or two are by authors I’d met previously through social media, and a number are by authors I’ve since got to know on social media, often because I’ve promoted their books. A handful have gone on to review my books. I’ve always been genuine with my praise and have never requested or expected a review in return – favourable or otherwise – but there are enough connections there for some people to question the validity of my reviews, adding to their mistrust of the system.

And customers regaining trust of the review system is at the heart of what Amazon are doing. So, rightly or wrongly, Amazon have decided to cut off the leg to save the body. They are doing this across all product areas, using an algorithm to identify suspect patterns and connections, and automatically removing reviews they believe could be false, banning those accounts highlighted from generating reviews. And this means some innocents will be caught up in the process. And while that’s bad news for those affected, Amazon see it as a small price to pay compared to their customer regaining trust in reviews.

But as an author, I want people to believe in the reviews of my books. I’m lucky enough to have received some great reviews, a number of them from other authors. I’d hate to lose these reviews but if it meant readers placed more trust in those that remain then so be it. We still have the opportunity of placing those reviews in the ‘Editorial Reviews’ section of the product page, it’s just they would no longer count as part of the overall star ratings and average.

Of course, I would prefer Amazon found a better way to clean up the review system, and as mentioned earlier, I have every sympathy for those wrongly caught up in this process, but if it provides a system readers trust, that can only be of benefit to all of us.

What do you think? Do you agree with me or do you think I’m completely wrong? What are your views on what Amazon is doing, or the review system in general? I’d love to hear from you.

 

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

Recommended Reads: Occasional Soulmates by Kevin Brennan

occasional_soulmates_ebook_cover

The Description

When the thirty-eight-year-old San Francisco doctor meets her new patient, a handsome British expat with the unlikely name of Dylan Cakebread (and an uncanny resemblance to Jude Law), she’s convinced it’s the start of her own relationship novel. He’s an architect, no less — always a key piece of her most indulgent fantasies — and the heroine of a relationship novel always gets her fantasy man, right? Though their shaky start raises red flags that her oldest girlfriend, Jules, is quick to point out, Sarah can’t help it. She falls hard for Dylan and it appears to be a two-way street.

But maybe meeting your perfect mate in the exam room isn’t the best opening act. Sarah thinks she’s the cure for what ails him, but soon she learns the secret Dylan has been keeping from her. Now she has to choose between happiness and the illusion of it — if Dylan doesn’t take the choice out of her hands first.

It’s starting to look like this isn’t her relationship novel at all: it’s his.

The Review

Kevin Brennan wrote one of my favourite books I read last year, Yesterday Road, a warm-hearted tale of memory and discovery. With Occasional Soulmates, Brennan has put his own twist on the chick-lit genre, gently subverting the standard tropes while respecting the genre and its audience.

The book is written from the point of view of Sarah Phelan, a doctor who has almost given up on finding the perfect man when he arrives in her waiting room. Smart, handsome – a Jude Law look-a-like – and an architect to boot, Dylan Cakebread appears to be the man of her dreams, yet as their relationship develops Sarah learns that Dylan Cakebread isn’t the person she thought he was, in fact she realises she doesn’t really know him at all.

Written in the first person, Brennan effortlessly draws us into the mind of Dr Phelan. She’s smart, funny, engaging, but not without the odd neurosis or two, in fact the perfect protagonist for this type of tale. As she stumbled through the early awkwardness of a new relationship, I couldn’t help but warm to her. There were no false notes, no plot-led decisions – instead Brennan has built a credible and compelling story on character alone. And the support cast are equally as compelling, especially Phelan’s relationship with her mother and her sister.

In the portrayal of Dylan Cakebread, Brennan has managed to capture a particular type of english reserve very well indeed. There were a few missteps regarding slang, and his brother was probably the least rounded of all the book’s cast, but the mystery of who Dylan Cakebread really is played out very well and held my interest throughout.

Throughout the book, Brennan – through the narration of Sarah – often refers back to a the different stages of a relationship novel, and while I enjoyed the conceit it occasionally came across as a little too knowing. That said, it is a beautifully written book and I enjoyed it very much indeed.

If you are looking for an intelligent romance with a lot of heart, then this is the book for you. Recommended.

To buy Occasional Soulmates from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Occasional Soulmates from Amazon.com click here

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

Recommended Reads: Solace by Therin Knite

Solace

I had the pleasure of reading and recommending Othella by Therin Knite last year and enjoyed it so much I joined the author’s mailing list. Earlier this year, Knite offered her mailing list a free copy of her latest book, Solace, in return for an honest review. It’s taken me a little while to get to it, but here are my thoughts. I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed.

The Blurb

Corina Marion has a father problem—namely that her Red Cross doctor of a dad has finally returned home from sixteen years of war…

…as a body in a box to be buried.

Her mother is devastated, her friends shocked and saddened, her hometown in mourning at the loss of its local hero. And Corina, indifferent to the man she never met, is trapped in the middle of an emotional onslaught she isn’t prepared to handle.

But when a strange old man confronts Corina at her father’s funeral, he offers her an impossible opportunity: the chance to know the late Luther Marion. And in a moment of uncertainty, Corina makes a choice with consequences she can barely fathom.

A choice that sends her twenty-five years into the past.

Right on the cusp of the harrowing events that will shape Luther Marion’s life…and death.

And in order to return to her damaged home, supportive friends, and uncertain future, Corina will have to fight tooth and nail alongside the man she’s resented her entire life. Because if she doesn’t help fix the past she’s inadvertently changed with her presence, Luther Marion may not live long enough to become a hero at all.

The Review

Corina is a tough, independent teenager. She’s had to be. Her doctor father left before she was born to save lives in a never-ending war on the other side of the world, leaving just her and her mother waiting for him to return. But when he does, it’s in a box. Angry at what’s happened, and the reverence in which her father she’s never known is held, she tries to escape the cloying atmosphere at her father’s funeral, only to meet a mysterious man who offers her the chance to know what her father was really like. Corina agrees, and before she know’s it she’s being rescued from a canal 25 years in the past – by the man who became her father.

Solace is a well-written, hard hitting YA coming of age story set in an alternate version of our future. It’s a modern take on the Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, but instead of our protagonist following her own life, she gets to follow the life of her absent father.

Therin Knite has a great writing style, and it didn’t take me long to be sucked into the story. The opening scenes are about as tough as I’ve read in my (admittedly sparse) experience of YA novels and set the tone for the rest of the book, introducing us to the harsh world in which the tough, loyal and driven Corina lives. It’s a dark but well realised vision of our future, with America almost on its knees due to the effects of an ongoing war against China. Yet almost as soon as we’re introduced to this world we’re taken out of it as Corina is sent back in time on a journey to discover the real person behind her father’s heroic image. The only rule, is she’s not allowed to turn him away from the life he is going to lead.

At the heart of the story is the relationship between the abandoned daughter and the absent father. As they journey together through some of the defining moments of her father’s life, the two of them form a bond which never existed in real life as they each learn about the other. But throughout the book the joy of a daughter learning about her father is tempered by the knowledge of where that journey’s heading.

I really enjoyed both the concept behind this story and found Knite’s stripped-down writing sharp and very engaging. The characters were well-rounded and believable, the settings realistic, and I devoured it in just a few days. The only issue I had with the book was that there were a few occasions where the dialogue appeared forced, with some conversations used as a means to explain or advance the plot (in the hospital, for example), but they probably stood out because of the high quality work in what is yet another strong novel by Therin Knite. If you like gripping, near-future thrillers with strong female protagonists, this is the book for you. Highly recommended.

To buy Solace from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Solace from Amazon.com click here

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

Recommended Reads: Rogue Genesis by Ceri London

Rogue Genesis

The Blurb

 

Major Niall Kearey is split between two worlds.

He lives on Earth, but his mind can visit Astereal, an alien world across the universe.

He’s just discovered his fantasy planet is real. To the telepathic race on Astereal, Niall is a legend and military leader. Now the dueling forces of the dark stars are tearing Astereal apart and prophecy says he can save them from an apocalypse. On Earth, Niall’s growing psychic abilities attract unwanted attention putting his family in danger, but his attempt to rescue them has horrific consequences. With alien invasion a real threat, the US government designates him a security risk while a secret political conspiracy seeks to control him and this first contact with extra-terrestrials. Now Niall is torn between protecting his loved ones, saving an alien race, and his duty to Earth. As history opens his eyes to the full potential of his psychic powers, he finally confronts the disturbing scale of his dilemma. Will his attempts to save one world end up destroying two?

One man. Two worlds. Psychic powers and an alternate world view that rewrites history.

The Review

Major Niall Kearey is an all action hero with an edge, he can sense danger before it happens. By allowing his subconscious to escape into an imaginary world he’s known since he was a child, Kearey is able to identify a way out of danger and then act. But then he discovers a shocking truth. The world he’s known for so long isn’t imaginary but real, and they need his help to save their population before the planet’s consumed by a black hole.

If you like your science fiction big, full of action and ideas, then this is the book for you. In Rogue Genesis, Ceri London successfully combines the raw excitement of a military conspiracy thriller with the ideas and scope of a space opera, taking the two separate storylines, one on earth, the other on Astereal, and intelligently drawing them together to a satisfying conclusion.

The two worlds, the dystopian conspiracy on Earth and the collapsing civilisation on Asetreal are very well put together. You cannot help but be pulled along by Kearey as he tries to do what’s best for his family, his country, and his friends on another planet. The action scenes are tough and visceral, and there are enough twists and turns to keep

This is a big book and it’s unsurprising there are the occasional missteps. At points the action slows as each of the elements are brought into alignment. Sometimes there is too much reliance on the science behind what’s happening, making the story more, rather than less confusing. There is also an issue that Major Kearey reaches the peaks of desperation quite early in the story, meaning emotionally he has nowhere else to go, which can be a little draining. However, for the quality of the writing, the scale and ambition of the story, and the sheer breadth of ideas make this a book worth reading. I can’t wait to read the next. Recommended.

To buy Rogue Genesis from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Rogue Genesis from Amazon.com click here

 

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

Recommended Reads: On Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened by Lori Schafer

On hearing of my mother's death six years after it happened

At the beginning of the year I took on a reading challenge, and I asked people for their suggestions on indie books they’ve enjoyed reading. The only rules were that you couldn’t suggest more than one (like that stopped you) and you couldn’t promote your own book. The post had a great response (and I’m still looking for more, so if you have any suggestions, please let me know). One of the books suggested was today’s recommended read, the memoir On Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened by Lori Schafer.

The Blurb

It was the spring of 1989. I was sixteen years old, a junior in high school and an honors student. I had what every teenager wants: a stable family, a nice home in the suburbs, a great group of friends, big plans for my future, and no reason to believe that any of that would ever change.

Then came my mother’s psychosis.

I experienced first-hand the terror of watching someone I loved transform into a monster, the terror of discovering that I was to be her primary victim. For years I’ve lived with the sadness of knowing that she, too, was a helpless victim – a victim of a terrible disease that consumed and destroyed the strong and caring woman I had once called Mom.

My mother’s illness took everything. My family, my home, my friends, my future. A year and a half later I would be living alone on the street on the other side of the country, wondering whether I could even survive on my own.

But I did. That was how my mother – my real mother – raised me. To survive.

She, too, was a survivor. It wasn’t until last year that I learned that she had died – in 2007. No one will ever know her side of the story now. But perhaps, at last, it’s time for me to tell mine.

The Review

I don’t usually read memoirs. The ones I have, usually celebrity memoirs, come across as self-indulgent, glossing over darker aspects of their personalities (except the ones they are happy to promote) and promoting their virtues. You certainly couldn’t say that for On Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened. This is a heart-wrenching look into life of the author, as a teenaged girl, being raised by a mother with mental illness, written plainly but beautifully, with no embellishment or self-justification. By the end you feel in awe of the author for having survived the ordeal, although as is made clear, it’s not clear if the effects of the experience have ever actually ended.

The book isn’t written chronologically because the author struggles to remember what happened in what order. There are some passages that have been written as fiction because after all these years it’s the only way she convey the feeling of what happened effectively. While some may find this off-putting, to me these stylistic tics only gave added weight to what I was reading.

The memoir itself is short, I read it in a day, but that breath gives it added punch. I can only applaud Lori Schafer for having the courage to write something so personal, so honestly. It’s a book that will stay with me a long time. Highly Recommended.

To buy On Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy On Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened from Amazon.com click here

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

Recommended Reads: Family Tree by Vaughan Stanger

Family Tree

Earlier this year, Moondust Memories by Vaughan Stanger became one of my first Recommended Reads. I found it a great collection of short stories that kept me thinking long after I finished reading them. When I found out that Vaughan had published a new short story, I couldn’t wait to have a look.

The Blurb

Family Tree is an intriguing and moving science fiction story, set in an alternate timeline in which the Apollo moon-landing programme continued beyond 1972, leading to the establishment of a small lunar colony. The story focuses on one of oft-forgotten necessities of any future colonisation programme: the need for excellent teachers.

Family Tree was originally published in Helix (2008). This is its first appearance in ebook form.

Family Tree is dedicated to teachers everywhere.

The Review

We all remember our favourite teachers, the ones that took an interest over and above what was required professionally. Many of us took out first steps towards an enduring love of a subject because of these wonderful people. And what of teachers themselves? Do they have the same affection for some of their pupils, the ones who responded and grew over the course of being taught?

In Family Tree we meet Sarah Henderson, a teacher just retired and content to spend her time tending her memory garden, looking to capture recollections of her recently dead husband. But when a mysterious message arrives from a group of former pupils, it appears her she may not be as forgotten as she thinks.

Family Tree is a paean to teachers and the positive effect they can have on their pupil’s lives. It’s made clear in the book’s introduction the admiration Vaughan Stanger has for his former teachers, but even without this you can feel the love emanating from every page. If you like your short stories warm and life affirming, you really should give this one a try. Recommended.

To buy Family Tree from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Family Tree from Amazon.com click here

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

Book review: Second Chance by Dylan Hearn

A few days ago Jane Dougherty named Second Chance as one of her Indie Gems of 2014. Now she’s written her review. Naturally, I’m thrilled with what she’s had to say.

If you would like to experience Second Chance for yourself, simply sign up to my mailing list by clicking on the icon at the top of the page and I’ll send you a copy absolutely free.

Jane Dougherty Writes

Second Chance (The Transcendence Trilogy Book 1) by Dylan Hearn

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Second-Chance-Transcendence-Trilogy-Book-ebook/dp/B00I0945TA/ref=pd_sim_kinc_3?ie=UTF8&refRID=1RXYBZMMPX0NV36MJGWN

Second Chance is thrilling and chilling. There is blood and gore, but it is the cold-blooded, or even bloodless aspect of British society that is really at the core of this story of a political system that controls everything even beyond the grave.
There are four distinct threads to the story as well as sub-stories, as murky as the crumbling cityscape. Each chapter adds a little more detail to one of the main threads, and as Dylan Hearn pulls in the threads, we begin to see through the murk to where they are all going. And it’s not a nice place, I can tell you.

The technical parts, the cloning and regeneration, the memories that are replaced in the new brain, or not, depending, seem perfectly feasible to a non-techy person like me. The idea of cheating death on…

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