Review of Abomination

A lovely ***** review from Kitty Muse Book Reviews. Makes Monday worthwhile after all 🙂

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Kitty Muse Book Reviews, July 10, 2016
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This review is from: Abomination (The Pathfinders Book 1) (Kindle Edition)
Tully and Carla are students at an international school, with no problems in their lives other than having to take Saturday morning classes, the appearance of leek quiche for lunch, and what to do after school. It is nothing more than a small worry when the sun becomes hotter than usual, there is worldwide rioting, and Mt. Fuji seems on the verge of blowing up. Being teens, the outside world doesn’t touch them much.
The storm changes it all in an instant. And the wormhole, although it saves their lives, changes the pair’s world completely.
When the dust settles, they emerge from Carla’s cellar to an unrecognizable, shattered landscape, utterly devoid of life.
Unless you count the survivors, who themselves are hardly considered “living”.
The two are captured by one member of a number of “tribes”, who delivers them to his leader, a man-child by the name of Ace, whose tribe lives in the ruins of a shopping mall. Here, Tully and Carla learn of what has transpired in the surprisingly five years since they had disappeared into that hole…
…and that they all await the return of The Burnt Man.

I’d been waiting for Ms. Dougherty to produce another book, and she more than met my expectations. The characters in this book reminded me a lot of the boys in “Lord of the Flies”. And the mall—creepy atmosphere entirely! Because—guess what?—the kids are not alone…
Oh—and why are they just kids of a certain age? Well, that would be telling.
I am just in awe of the worlds Jane Dougherty can create. They are so vibrant, filled with sensory depictions so vivid the reader can be totally immersed in the tale from the first to the last page.
This book is the first in a new series—and I am waiting, once again, for the next installment in this new world she has created for us.

Kathy Ree sent me this collection of photos she found of the shopping mall at the end of the world. Extraordinary! How did they get the pictures?
Here are the buy links, because, of course, you are going to read this series, aren’t you?

Author hot seat: That was nice. What was it?

Lesley Hayes is my first guest in this series of interviews, and she and I are going to thrash out the problem I evoked in my introduction earlier in the month. Actually we’re going to do it in two rounds, with an intermission so you can make yourselves a cup of tea, because we have been rather long-winded.
I invited authors whose writing doesn’t fit into a particular category to stand up and explain themselves, because sometimes getting noticed feels like bashing your head against a brick wall—you don’t make any impression, but you give yourself a lot of pain.
I started writing what I thought my adolescent children would like to read, given the complaints they voiced about what was on offer. Fair enough, you say. However, I live in France, i.e. surrounded by French people who speak and read in French. My children go to French schools; their friends are French. I sit in my corner scribbling away (in English) at what I want to write with not much hope that anybody in my immediate neighbourhood is ever going to read it.
What I write is my personal take on the world—its problems and some of the solutions to them. The people who have read what I write praise it, but very few of them found the book for themselves. If I hadn’t shoved it in front of them they would never have picked it up.
The characters I write about are nothing like either Harry Potter or Catniss Thingy. They are like the people I know. I hate sword-wielding heroines, princes of the blood, and the gang with a collection of super powers that between them make Star Wars look like a game of tiddley winks. When you write in the fantasy genre that’s a problem. No sparkle, no hot romantic interest, no exiled princes or half-dressed women warriors and you’re on a sticky wicket. And I don’t think I’m alone.

If the titles tickle your fancy they’re available here and here

So, here’s Lesley

J: Lesley, what made you decide to write, what do you write about?

L: Thanks for the opportunity to share my own experience with you, Jane. I describe on my website (www.lesleyhayes.co.uk) my early predilection for writing. I don’t think it was then so much a decision as an instinct. From an incredibly young age I was already writing stories. I was an only child, and I think it may have been a form of escape into an alternative world. I also loved words, the sound of them, the rhythm of language, and the secret magic of the metaphor. I wrote poetry as well as stories, and every so often throughout the years a poem has come, fully formed, intruding into ordinary consciousness like a dream, expressing a truth demanding to be told. The stories I write are always primarily about relationships – my greatest fascination since childhood. Family dynamics were the breeding ground for my nuanced observations.
Much of the action in my novels takes place in the mind and the interactions of the characters. I want to know them and discover their motivations, and I have to write the novel in order to find out. Long before I trained to become a psychotherapist I was already a psychologist and a deep thinking philosopher. I didn’t need books to teach me these subjects. It came naturally to me. I was blessed or cursed with an inquiring mind. It’s what has continued to intrigue and drive me, throughout my career as a therapist and now that I have returned to writing fiction.

J: Has your writing style/genre thrown up any problems?

L: The issue of genre and whether or not square pegs can fit into round holes, I don’t see so much as a problem as a phenomenon of our times. Back in the day, when I was being published by actual publishers and had an actual agent, there was always a certain amount of categorisation, but it seems to me that this has become more fixed in today’s market, and especially in the world of self-publishing. The very idea of self-publishing was anathema to ‘serious writers’ when I was writing fiction twenty years ago. I think there is still a degree of sneering that goes on, and darkly muttered indictments referring to ‘vanity publishing.’
This casts something of a pall over serious writers who have chosen to self-publish because they see this is the way the trend is going, now that increasing numbers of publishers have their backs to the wall.

J: There is certainly a lot to wade through if a reader is trawling the Amazon categories. In one way it makes sense to have signposts to guide readers, in another it doesn’t allow for the books that don’t fit. I mean, what is General Fiction supposed to mean? It certainly doesn’t conjure up the idea of a book that breaks the mould. More likely the book that will bore you to death.

L: My novels have always fought against being categorised, much as I have in the rest of my life. Who wants to be put in a box that defines them before they are truly known? My stories aren’t romances, although I do write about love. They aren’t erotic fiction although I don’t shy away from describing scenes of sexual intimacy when the storyline requires it. They couldn’t be described as historical, fantasy, vampire, zombie or thriller fiction – although since someone who read The Drowned Phoenician Sailor said it was a kind of psychological thriller, I loosely accepted that label. So that leaves me in the vast uncharted and frequently unexplored waters of ‘General Fiction’. I write literary novels that have a good story, strong characterisation, a fully worked out plot and a point to make. However, I haven’t been on Big Brother or had my own cookery programme or otherwise developed a fan base, so entering the world of mainstream publishing is these days no easy task.

J: How did you set about getting published? Was it the usual round of agents and publishers?

L: After completing The Drowned Phoenician Sailor I tried for a year to find an agent to represent me. I approached every agent out there who purported to have interest in my kind of fiction. My previous agent had retired, much as I now had from psychotherapy practice, and to begin with I still believed that you needed an agent to knock on publishers’ doors. The ones who replied to my submissions were enthusiastic about the quality of my writing but all said they were only able to take on one or two new authors a year, and sadly (they always said sadly) this wasn’t going to be me. “But keep trying to find someone to represent you,” they all said. “I’m sure you will.” They didn’t add wryly: “And good luck with that…” although I suspect they probably thought it. All this time my son kept saying: “You don’t need an agent, you don’t need a publisher. Look at the way the world is now. In a few years everyone will have a kindle. It’s the PC revolution all over again. People are even reading books on their iPhones. Find out how to publish through Amazon.” So eventually I took the plunge.

On that cliff-hanger we will take a break. INTERMISSION

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Or if you’d rather

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J: Self publishing is the obvious way round the problem of the gatekeepers, but it does mean the entire burden of both publishing and promotion is on the author.

L: Without an agent and a publisher you must rapidly learn all the skills of an additional career in advertising. Self-promotion doesn’t come easily for a writer – not for this writer, anyway. Basically, what I really want to be doing is writing, not all this social networking and casting my bread upon the waters – the oceanic waters I might add – of twitter and facebook. I’ve met some great people – albeit in passing, mostly – on both, but I don’t know that all this tweeting and retweeting and shouting out: “Look at me, over here!” in the crowded twitter marketplace is actually having any effect, except that the people following me are probably bored to the brim with the constant repetition.

J: As you say, the line between promotion and harassment is a very fine one. But if you don’t push yourself forward who is going to notice you? Just waiting politely at the back might be very British but it won’t sell your books. The sheer volume of fiction available is staggering, and much of it is annoyingly awful.

L: I guess the biggest shock for me, having originally embarked on self-publishing as a kind of experiment, has been to discover there the magnitude of badly edited, badly written, misspelt, ungrammatical and carelessly plotted books claiming to be best-sellers. Anyone can publish a book on kindle and take on the mantle of ‘author’. But I don’t see them as competition. The world is plenty big enough for books that suit all kinds of audiences, and for me that’s just a sad reflection of how low the bar is set for a lot of readers. The difficulty seems to be that with all of that jostling for space beside other genuinely well written books as well as the dross, becoming visible is an incredible challenge. There is no filter separating the good from the bad. Fortunately Amazon have had the foresight to offer a “Look inside” feature, so that you can check out within the first few paragraphs, or sentences in some cases, whether the self-proclaimed author lives up to that title. My confidence has been restored in coming across a few books that have impressed me enough to put on my own kindle. Usually they also defy categorisation, or sit uneasily between several genres.

J: But the idle Amazon browsers have to find you before they even get to the stage of ‘looking inside’. The first stumbling block to recognition must be deciding how you’re going to categorise your book, before you even decide which reviewers might be interested. Because reviews are all-important in helping to get your book on the map.

L: Real reviews, of course. Do you want to sell your soul for the dubious prize of buying in a load of fake ‘reviews’ by people who haven’t actually read the book? Some people do, and the more reviews you have, the higher up the Amazon visibility charts you will rise.
My first novel has accrued 8 genuine reviews, the last time I counted – my first short story collection has 4. Since I know they are authentic, I feel good about them, yet I’m so far out of the Amazon best-seller list that I might as well be a minor planet circling a distant star in a galaxy far far away. I am not even a blip on the radar – in spite of all my dedicated marketing in the twittersphere.

J: But that hasn’t stopped you writing.

L: As a writer, I would write anyway. All the years that I wasn’t writing fiction but listening to other people’s real and often harrowing stories, I wrote extensively in my journal. It was something I simply had to do, the same way I need to regularly discharge all the usual bodily functions. I won’t go into details. But it would be dishonest to say I only write for myself. I want to share my novels and short stories. I want them to have value for other people as well as for me. I want to give pleasure through them and know that I’ve succeeded. I’m not in it for the money or the fame (I would run a mile from that) but for the quiet satisfaction of knowing that other people recognised my talent for what it is and were moved, touched, inspired and entertained by it.

I’m sure many of us can empathise with that final message. Thank you Lesley for such an entertaining chat. I know it has given me food for thought.
Go to Lesley’s blog (lesleysky.wordpress.com) to read more about her writing, and her books can all be found on Amazon

Ragged Claws: Review

Just finished this one last night and wrote a review as soon as I was conscious this morning. This is a must read for everybody, except small children.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ragged-Claws-The-Book-Colossus-ebook/dp/B00J16F5TA

The world John Collick has created is not one the reader can ever get to know. It is as limitless as the imagination of its author. There are none of the familiar physical features of our world, not even of our fantasy worlds. Take a medieval vision of Hell, give it the Spielberg treatment, remove all the laws of physics you ever learnt at school, people it with the monsters you used to draw when you were ten, and you’re ready to dive in. Take the cover illustration. That isn’t a fanciful image produced by a cover artist who hasn’t got a clue what the book is about—that weird white thing is one of the central characters, and a very accurate portrait it is too. I’m not even going to begin to describe the story; suffice it to say it’s like nothing on earth.

I must admit that I hesitated slightly at the opening scenes of this latest episode in Max and Abby explore the end of time. How many fantasy novels have I read that begin with the hero leaping out of the window of an inn in a low-life quarter of a scruffy town to rescue a damsel in distress? How often does the hero end up with a long-term girlfriend or eternally grateful prince/priest/mage in tow after saving her/him from ruffians? However, I should not have doubted: Ragged Claws is anything but predictable. After only a few paragraphs we part company with the trope, and Max and Abby are plunged into the next absolutely mind-boggling leg of their journey in the company of two enigmatic characters who grow more and more unsettling as the story progresses.

This is a wonderful book, a massive canvas of purple and blood red skies, oceans of liquid metal, decomposing cities full of fear and squalor inside the body of God (yup, that’s right), nightmarish beings, and exquisite beauty. It isn’t for the squeamish either. Be prepared to be splattered with blood, red and white, and fountains of tripes and engine oil. One of my favourite images is of a beach on the edge of a sea of some molten metal, composed of minute cogwheels from the millions of dead machines and war engines lying at the bottom of the ocean. It is a vividly visual book, deep blues and purples shot through with the artificial lights of a dying universe, filled with crumbling skyscrapers miles and miles high built from rusting girders or filthy green glass, and the furtive, almost invisible remnants of humanity.

Every good story has a quest, and Max and Abby’s is not to defeat evil and bring back the good old status quo. It is no less than to ensure that the construction of God is completed so that he (it?) can carry humanity through the god door and into the next universe before this one flickers and dies.

This is a very strange and beautiful book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough to readers who appreciate the world of fantasy comics, early sci-fi films, or simply being carried along on rusty tracks faster than the fastest fighter jet and tossed into a universe of immense empty darkness, and savage metal claws.