Book Blog Tour for ‘The Migrant’: action thriller novel by Paul Alkazraji

I’m pleased to be hosting a stop today on the blog tour for Paul Alkazraji’s powerful novel of Albanian and Greek aspirations, politics and social tension, The Migrant. In view of the current world situation, the themes of this novel are acute: “Crossing borders does not always lead you further from home.”

The Migrant: action thriller fiction by Paul Alkazraji

The action of the novel is set during the 2010 anti-austerity movement in Greece. But all the themes and issues raised in the story are highly relevant to what is going on in the world right now.

Paul Alkazraji, author of The Migrant

I found the novel a rich and detailed evocation of Albania and Greece: the people, their lives and longings, the geographical landscape, and the huge political, economic and ideological challenges they must navigate. The story is relevant to all of us who care deeply about the the plight of those who are deprived of the opportunity to live a fulfilling life in an environment that respects their rights and allows them to flourish on every level.

We follow Pastor Jude, an Englishman who has been working in the Albanian church, as he sets off on a rescue mission to Greece with two unlikely and rather tough companions – Mehmed, a reformed gangster and Luan, a secret-service agent. The tensions between Mehmed and Luan are sharply conveyed, as Jude – whom I found a very attractive character – acts as a bridge between them.

They are searching for Alban, Luan’s nineteen year old nephew, young and vulnerable, who has dodged border police to cross into Greece in the vain hope of finding work there in a country hit by anti-austerity riots.

I have spent some time in Greece in the past, and I was captivated by the author’s evocation of various locations in Athens. His description of the car journey from Albania to Greece, too, is rich and detailed. I could sense the atmosphere strongly and especially his lovely descriptions of the sights and sounds and scents, and particularly the taste of the national dishes and the food and drink they order in the cafes and the tavernas.

Jude’s fears for Alban are fully realised, because this young man’s most likely fate has always been either to fall into the hands of callous sex-traffickers, or to be drawn into the turbulence of violent anti-austerity riots.

This novel held my attention throughout and I was fully engaged in the search for Alban. On the way, I found very different lives being opened up for me in a fresh and compelling way. Highly recommended.

Book cover image for The Migrant by Paul Alkazraji

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY 

Paul Alkazraji worked as a freelance journalist in the UK from the mid-nineties. His articles were published in Christianity Magazine, The Christian Herald, The Church Times, The Baptist Times and other publications. His travel articles were also published in The Independent. His first book Love Changes Everything, a collection of seven testimonies, was published by Scripture Union in 2001. His second book Heart of a Hooligan, a biography of ex-football hooligan Dave Jeal, was published by Highland Books in 2000. His third book Christ and the Kalashnikov, a biography of missionaries Ian and Caralee Loring, was published by Zondervan in 2001. From 2004 to 2010 he was editor and publisher of Ujëvarë magazine in Albania. His first novel, ‘The Silencer’, was published by Highland Books in 2012. His new novel, ‘The Migrant’, set in Albania and Athens during the austerity troubles, was published by Instant Apostle in February 2019. 

BLURB

Fascist populists, callous sex-traffickers and murderous mafia gangs – these were not what Pastor Jude Kilburn had expected to face when he moved to Albania. But when vulnerable 19-year-old Alban disappears from his poverty-stricken village to seek work in Greece, Jude has to undertake the perilous journey across the mountains to try and rescue him from the ruthless Athenian underworld. Accompanied by a volatile secret-service agent and a reformed gangster, Jude soon finds himself struggling to keep everyone together as personal tensions rise and violent anti-austerity riots threaten to tear them apart and undermine the mission. Caught between cynical secret police and a brutal crime syndicate, the fate of them all will be determined by a trafficked girl – but not every one will make it home. The Migrant is a tense and evocative thriller with a powerful redemptive twist.

EXTRACT FROM THE NOVEL

Chapter One Part One

Alban Gurbardhi lay with his face pressed into the earth. He eased his breath out through pursed lips as he tried to stifle any sound he might make. It seemed his heartbeat would be heard across the valley as it pounded in his ears. An angry, black beetle marched across the thyme-grass centimetres from his nose. He glanced at Ervin, who lay in against the crumbling stone wall, and saw his eyes darting.

‘Sssst … They are near here. We’ll get them,’ Alban heard one of the men say in a low voice. ‘Keep looking. Óchi … over there.’ Ervin lifted a finger to his lips and gestured with his palm forwards to stay put. Alban blinked and thought. They should have waited at the last Albanian village for the full cover of darkness before entering Greece. He remembered Ervin saying he’d come this way many times before and not to worry. The Greek border guards were less active these days – they were lazy. As they’d taken the track up from the old Communist hut at dusk, they’d still been visible in the open from lookout points in the woods to the east. That’s why they’d been spotted. He glared at his friend: older, yes, but wiser? Stones ground underfoot as one of the policemen trod close to the other side of the wall. Alban waited for a hand or something worse to strike down on him.

He flinched and screwed up his eyes, bracing himself, and a tear welled out of one corner. Oh, Lord … let us pass, he pleaded in his mind.

The sounds of shuffling over fallen branches and rocks moved away. Alban waited. He raised his body slowly with his hands and slid his feet under him. He glanced at Ervin, who nodded, and eased his head over the top of the wall. The two men were moving up into the pine trees around five metres away. Alban saw their dark blue T- shirts and black military boots. The taller of the two looked a strikingly muscular and athletic man. His hair was dark and razor-cut close in at the sides with a quiff on top.

AMAZON LINK TO BUY

If you share this blog post on any social media platform, please do include the hashtag #THEMIGRANT

Here are the author’s social media links:

Twitter: @paul_alkazraji

Amazon Author Page

 Goodreads

Blog Tour for ‘Creativity Matters’, a new inspirational anthology compiled by Wendy H Jones

I’m pleased to be hosting a stop on the blog tour today for an exciting new anthology for writers, Creativity Matters, the third of a series published by Scott and Lawson, and compiled by Wendy H Jones.

Wendy H Jones is a fellow author who has been a great encouragement to me and many other authors, and for this book she has invited a number of writers to contribute chapters. So you will find a wide variety of different types of writing represented here, together with varied outlooks and themes. This makes for a stimulating collection of encouraging pieces which seems set to be very popular among aspiring writers.

Wendy H Jones, author and compiler, Creativity Matters

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY 

Wendy H Jones is the Amazon #1 international best-selling author of the award winning DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries. Her Young Adult Mystery, The Dagger’s Curse was a finalist in the Woman Alive Readers’ Choice Award. She is also The President of the Scottish Association of Writers, an international public speaker, and runs conferences and workshops on writing, motivation and marketing. Wendy is the founder of Crime at the Castle, Scotland’s newest Crime Festival. She is the editor of a Lent Book, published by the Association of Christian Writers and also the editor of the Christmas Anthology from the same publisher. Her first children’s book, Bertie the Buffalo, was released in December 2018. Motivation Matters: Revolutionise Your Writing One Creative Step at a Time, was released in May 2019. The Power of Why: Why 23 Women Took the Leap to Start Their Own Business was released on 29th June, 2020. Marketing Matters: Sell More Books was released on 31st July 2020. Bertie Goes to the Worldwide Games will be released on 5th May, 2022,  and the third book in the Fergus and Flora Mysteries will be published in 2021. Her new author membership Authorpreneur Accelerator Academy launched in January 2021. Creativity Matters: Find Your Passion for Writing, the third book in her Writing Matters Series, is published in September 2021.

BLURB

Have you always thought about writing a book but don’t know where to start? Are you an experienced author and want to spread your wings? Are you looking for inspiration for every step in your writing journey? This is a book for everyone who wants to write, whether history or contemporary, science fiction or humour, local fiction or set in a made-up world, fiction, non-fiction, memoir, there’s something here for you. Join thirteen authors as they share their passion for why you should write in their genre and find your own passion as you read.

It’s time for you to spread your wings, follow your dreams and find your passion for writing.

MY REVIEW OF CREATIVITY MATTERS

This book brings us the work of several different authors, who have each contributed a chapter about the particular genre in which they write, and why they love it. The editor and compiler, Wendy H Jones, herself provides three chapters: on writing Humour, Crime and Non-fiction. In her introduction, she promises “ideas will be popping up and exploding all around you.” She  encourages the readers to have confidence in their ability to try new genres.

I enjoyed the array of authors who share their passion in this anthology. Sheena McLeod opens up the subject of historical non-fiction; she was first motivated by a desire to convey little known stories about Scotland’s history.

Next, Janet Wilson sets out her thoughts and feelings about children’s books; what she writes is powerful and inspiring, and it rings with truth.

Allison Symes writes flash fiction, and I will certainly be following her recommendation to polish up my writing exercises, turn them into flash fiction and submit to writing competitions.

Fay Rowland offers a witty and funny piece about scriptwriting.  Joy Margetts expresses her own passion for historical fact-based fiction; her dedication to research is evident.  Kirsten Bett writes Cat Tales, and again her passion for this genre shines through.  Jennifer Ngulube’s piece on writing memoir is challenging and stirring.

Maressa Mortimer provides two chapters:  in the first, on writing faith-based fiction, I found her arguments moving, convincing and thought-provoking.  The second, on writing novels set in a different world, sparkles with infectious enthusiasm, and fills the reader with a “can-do” attitude.

Nanette Fairley moves and excites us with her thoughts on writing in the ‘Third Age’. Andrew Chamberlain’s chapter on Science Fiction and Fantasy, I found fascinating, and it may well be the chapter that most inspires me.

Wendy H Jones writes in a stimulating and enjoyable way about crime and mystery; she gives good practical tips on the topic of writing Humour; and makes some intriguing points on the subject of writing Romance.

I love the quote at the end of the book, under the title “What Now?”

Fortune favours the brave and the future belongs to those who are not afraid to step out.

This is certainly a book which will awaken fresh enthusiasm and new ideas in its readers and encourage writers to try out new genres.

AMAZON LINK TO BUY 

Please include the hashtag #CREATIVITYMATTERS  and the following social media handles when you are sharing your posts about the book. Wendy’s website may be found here.

FACEBOOK

https://www.facebook.com/wendyhjonesauthor

TWITTER

@WendyHJones

AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE

INSTAGRAM

https://www.instagram.com/wendyhjones/

Book Review: ‘Urban Angel’ by A J Chamberlain

Today I review a recently published Christian Fantasy novel, Book 1 of the Masters series. Urban Angel by A J Chamberlain was published by Nielsen both as paperback and ebook on 23 May 2021.

‘Urban Angel’ by A J Chamberlain

This is a fascinating story: for the young main protagonist, Alex Masters, the journey to faith has been marked by grief and loneliness, but still she chooses to believe…. Alex thinks she is truly alone; but she is not, and never will be … Daisy is a child of the social media generation, lost in every belief and none. When tragedy strikes, she seeks out her cousin Alex because she knows that Alex understands what it is to face the darkness.

Alex and Daisy come together, hunted by an enemy that will do whatever it takes to achieve its goal. Alone, Alex and Daisy would be defenceless, but this is not a struggle against flesh and blood, and not every weapon is visible.

As I read the story, I loved the way the author describes the interactions of angels and demons as a seamless part of the narrative, weaving in and out of the choices and actions of the characters in the physical realm.

The story reminded me a little of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s film Bedazzled, and also of the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley in Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens – and this despite the fact that I am well aware the respective creators of those works hold a different worldview from the author of this novel! One part of A J Chamberlain’s story even reminded me a bit of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, when he is in the mind of The Assassin, and when he makes mysterious references to ‘his master’.

I believe all these comparisons show how well tuned in to our culture A J Chamberlain is, whilst handling this subject of a spiritual battleground. The dialogue and relationship between 20 year old Conner and Daisy absolutely rings true. The dilemmas, conflicts and temptations the characters face are all so authentic and relatable.

The narrative moves at pace, and is very tense, strong and gritty. I found this a wonderful depiction of spiritual warfare around human activity. This first book promises very well for the next one in the series.

A highly recommended novel.

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Fiction Genre: What is it Exactly?

As a writer, I believe we should be willing to explore new areas, and to step outside our comfort zone. And that applies very closely to our lives as readers too.

I read a wide variety of books, both non-fiction, and fiction of all genres. I admit I do like psychological insight but I believe all good writers in every genre should incorporate that in their novels anyway.
I find that the way I think about genre is influenced by my own eclectic reading habits. Now, as I work on a new novel I still have trouble trying to work out what genre I’m writing in.

I have just received reports from five beta readers and am considering their thoughts, and working on polishing and sharpening my final draft. One of the big questions has been: what genre do they consider this novel to be?

Writers are given an enormous amount of advice these days, mostly from online sources, and amongst them is this adage: Write the kind of book you most love reading. But if you read a wide variety of books, how does this help?
Another piece of advice we find floating around the publishing scene is that an author should, when pitching to a literary agent, be clear what genre he or she is working in, so the agent reading the letter can immediately think, “Whereabouts in the bookshop will this book will go?”

Another piece of advice suggests you should name a few established authors to whom your novel could be compared.
All this is anathema to me – and to many other writers, I suggest. Yet we are forced into this kind of mindset.
So now, for the benefit of the readers of this blog, I shall say that my WIP is most likely to be gothic mystery.
An example of my willingness to go into new areas is my recent attendance of the UK Games Expo at the Birmingham NEC, as one of three writers on the Authors Stand.

So what do fighting fantasy and interactive and roleplay games have to do with books such as the ones I write?
The atmosphere at the Games Expo is always wonderful, there’s a great sense of fun, excitement and good humour. The gaming world is one in which a vast number of “tropes” flourish: adventure, quests, danger, violence, fantasy, history, steampunk, sci fi…

My own fiction is indeed using some of those tropes, for instance, the predicament of the main protagonist as he finds himself in a deadly situation from which he must escape. Hidden chambers and secret passageways and dark rooms all find their place in the gaming world. There is an unexpected connection for me.
Hidden chambers and secret passageways and dark rooms all act as symbols for states of mind – and thus their connection to my fiction genre. Family relationships also play a strong role in my novels… I find these provide a fertile stage upon which the action can be played.
Which leaves me still with a fluid situation as regards genre; sometimes magical realism, paranormal, ghost story, gothic mystery, psychological suspense … all is possible.

Book Blog Tour for ‘Beyond the Hills’ by Maressa Mortimer

I’m pleased to be hosting a stop today on the blog tour for Maressa Mortimer’s new Young Adult novel Beyond the Hills.

Beyond the Hills is book 2 in the Elabi Chronicles series, and it was published on 18th June 2021. I read the opening book in the series on 8th February this year, and here is the first paragraph of my review.

This is an intriguing Young Adult novel set in a dystopian world which employs some curious combinations of futuristic technology and elements from the distant past. Gax enters the controlled, conformist society of the City of Elabi, on a mission from the free world to bring love, emotion and a spiritual vision back to the repressed people of this city state.

In the sequel, Beyond the Hills, our main protagonist is Macia, and here is the blurb:

Macia Durus, daughter of the well known Brutus Durus AMP, works hard to achieve a life of honour and prestige in her beloved Elabi. When a so-called “friend” challenges her priorities, Macia’s confusion threatens her carefully constructed plans. And her decision to investigate a forbidden book could have serious consequences for Macia as well as her family, turning their lives upside down.

Maressa Mortimer, young adult author, and author of Books 1 & 2 in the Elabi Chronicles series both published 2021:
Walled City and Beyond the Hills

In Walled City, I was particularly struck by the compelling description of life inside a repressed society. The novel is set in a dystopian future, but the society the author shows us reminded me of what I imagine life to have been like in East Berlin or indeed for some people today in North Korea. It is a society from which all emotion and religion has been stamped out. The society is run by a shadowy “council”; it values physical fitness and compliance highly but keeps all its citizens closely watched and controlled with some very sinister methods of punishment and social control, especially in regard to areas like marriage, disabilities and weakness and euthanasia. This results in a society of tense, closely watched, sullen, withdrawn, guarded, joyless people, and the author presents this very well, with some quite chilling moments.

MARESSA MORTIMER

I have met Maressa, both on and offline, and she is a lovely, bubbly, very supportive and encouraging member of our author community. She inspires us with her prolific output of books and her enthusiastic approach to life and to the whole business of being a writer. Maressa is Dutch; she grew up in the Netherlands, and moved to England soon after finishing her teaching training college. Married to Pastor Richard Mortimer, she lives in a Cotswold village with their four children. She is a homeschool mum, enjoying the time spent with the family, travelling, reading and turning life into stories. Maressa says, “I want to use my stories to show practical Christian living in a fallen world.”

Here’s a Q & A with Maressa, about her life as a writer, and how she came to start writing her series about Elabi.

1.What first drew you to write a novel?

I loved exploring character, and at the same time processing questions I had. Before I knew it, I got to 100,000 words! Home-schooling my children means that for me, sitting down to write is a time to concentrate and focus; to be in the moment.

2.When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest? 

Yes, because the market for Christian fiction is very small in Britain. After Sapphire Beach, which was done through a hybrid publisher, I decided to self publish.

3.What kind of research have you have to undertake for this novel? 

I used Roman food for Elabi, so I looked into that. Then there was paddle-boarding, so I learned about that. The factories Beyond the Hills are cotton factories, so I read a lot about old mills and the accidents that could happen.

4.Do you have a particular favourite scene in the book and why?

There are a few passages I like, but my favourite is probably about Macia stumbling through the tunnel with the dog, with the old man singing behind her…

5.If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you might have planned?

I’m writing a novel about teens, with under-earth dwellers that kidnap baby girls to combat inbreeding, as well as plotting book 3 in the Elabi Chronicles about Downstream. I’m also plotting a series about Vikings and time travelling. So lots of fun to come!

I look forward to reading Beyond the Hills and hope this has whetted your appetite to buy a copy or download onto your kindle.

Buy Beyond the Hills here.

AUTHOR WEBSITE LINK:

http://www.vicarioushome.com/

AUTHOR’S SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

AMAZON AUTHOR PROFILE: Amazon.co.uk: Maressa Mortimer: Books, Biography, Blogs, Audiobooks, Kindle

INSTAGRAM/FACEBOOK @vicarioush.ome

Illustrated Tales of Warwickshire, and Director’s Cut: Works in Progress

Hello! On today’s blog I share what I’m up to at the moment – writing, researching, editing, promoting. I have two books on the go, which makes life interesting!

Firstly, I’m working on my new non-fiction book for Amberley Publishing, Illustrated Tales of Warwickshire. The fully completed manuscript has to be delivered by the end of this year. It will be another highly illustrated volume, including 100 images, as with Paranormal Warwickshire. My tales will cover, amongst others, the following topics: Strange and Spooky Tales, Extraordinary True-life Stories, Tales of Warwickshire Witchcraft, Mysterious Murders and Other Crimes, Intriguing People, Strange Happenings and Mysteries, Curious Place Names, Ancient Legends, Folklore and Folk Customs, Ancient Ceremonies and Strange Rituals, and the Magical Forest of Arden.

I have been out and about gathering photos, interviewing people, and finding new stories. My son Jamie takes many of the photos as he has a good camera and an eye for an excellent view, The other day we travelled up to north Warwickshire in search of one story, and found material for three others, which was very exciting.

Alongside my work on Illustrated Tales of Warwickshire I’ve also been editing my new novel Director’s Cut. This novel is to be the first of a series starring gifted young musical rebel Dylan Rafferty. Director’s Cut is set in south London. I’ve written half of the sequel, which is called Standing Ovation and is set in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Director’s Cut should appeal to all those interested in the world of actors and filming; and in the reputation of actors to be superstitious, sensitive souls. Here is a quote from Geraldine Beskin, owner of London’s most mystical bookshop, Atlantis Books, for the Ghost Club, on 15 May 2021. What she says encapsulates how I feel about actors, and why my fascination with them has fed into this novel.

Geraldine Beskin emphasises the very human side of the acting profession with both its quicksilver triumphs and equally cataclysmic failures. ON and off stage, actors and actresses are known for their sensitive and emotional natures Drama is not confined to the theatre (or the filmset). Many thespians exist in a state of high tension, surviving on the margins, experiencing intense peaks and troughs of personal emotion, often alone.

As I’ve edited the novel, this theme has woven itself more deeply into my plot. Initially, the world of acting was to have simply provided the presenting situation for Dylan; but now, following several interviews during research, and a deeper understanding, it has an organic relationship to the unfolding of the story. The word liminal also plays a central part in the novel. Liminal means: ‘occupying a position at, or on both sides, of a boundary or threshold’.

One of the best illustrations of this theme lies in the closing speech of Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Puck, the mischievous spirit who stirred up all the emotional tumult at the behest of Oberon King of the Fairies, says this as he comes to address the audience:

If we shadows have offended,

Think but this and all is mended,

That you have but slumbered here

while these visions did appear.

During my research for Paranormal Warwickshire, I studied a lecture by Professor Sir Jonathan Bate about Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits.

One of the points he makes is that the word shadows may also be taken to mean actors. Therefore, the interplay between actors and spirits is one that Shakespeare felt deeply. Another famous Shakespeare quote also demonstrates this:

As Prospero the magician says in The Tempest:

Our revels now are ended, these our actors,

As I foretold you, were all spirits

In Director’s Cut, Dylan, gifted young musical rebel, discovers his favourite actress is filming a TV drama in a nearby Jacobean mansion, and he crashes the set to meet her. Upon arrival at Trident Court he discovers a deeply dysfunctional family haunted by an intergenerational curse, and a troop of ghostly actors in the garden doomed to perpetually rehearse A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Meanwhile actors, directors and film crew in the house are all swept up into the family’s strange world. Dylan comes to believe he alone can save them through the power of his musical genius. But he learns he must team up with the local priest to discover the family’s secrets. As they delve deeper into the family’s traumatic backstory Dylan encounters a supernatural being and finds he must cross the boundary between this world and another dimension.

As I near the end of my editing work on the novel, I seek beta readers before I pitch to publishers. In particular I am unsure about genre, whether the novel is paranormal mystery, magical realism or gothic. So I welcome any offers from prospective beta readers who may be able to clear up the mystery for me!

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Book Review: ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Owens

Today I share my review of this enchanting novel by nature writer Delia Owens.

Where the Crawdads Sing‘ by Delia Owens is set in the swampland of the North Carolina coast. Kya, the main protagonist, is abandoned by her family members one by one until, at the age of seven in the year 1952, she is left all alone, continuing to live in the family’s “swamp shack ” on the edge of the lagoon. Kya fends for herself, navigating the lagoons and waterways of the wetlands by boat, and living independently into her adulthood, gaining her reputation among the people of nearby Barkley Cove as “the marsh girl”.

I found the descriptions of the wetlands around Kya’s lagoon utterly compelling. Delicate, exquisite, and using the most fluid, inspired, original use of vocabulary, Owens weaves pictures of a breathtakingly beautiful and remote region. I found myself longing to visit those wetlands.

Delia Owens herself is a nature writer, and a wildlife scientist who formerly lived and worked in a camp in Africa for several years. This is her first novel, and it is astonishingly beautiful.

As Kya’s story progresses in 1952, another story runs alongside it in a different time-frame, in 1969-70, when the adult Kya finds herself accused of murder. Although the plot is interesting, I longed to return to the description of Kya’s life as a child fending for herself in the wetlands, which has a spiritual, dreamlike quality.

I think I love this book so much because of the appeal and fascination of the idea of “the wild child.” I have always loved stories which centre upon this theme. High among my childhood favourites, the stories of Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren held my imagination. Pippi is a wild child, and she was my heroine. I was enthralled by the idea of a child who finds herself living an independent life utterly free of the constraints that adults impose upon children. Reading these books as adults, we may read into that situation all the judgements of our social conditioning; yet, in the world of fiction, this trope is powerful and archetypal.

The story goes on to tell of the older Kya’s relationships with two young men, one of whom is found dead in the mud beneath the local fire-tower, and the progress of the murder trial in which Kya is the Defendant. I will say no more about the plot for fear of spoilers bur suffice it to say that very close to the end there is an amazing twist.

A highly recommended book.

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Book Review: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Today I share a review of this historical gothic fantasy set in1950s Mexico.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a rich feast for lovers of gothic sinister-mansion stories.

Creepy, disturbing, sensuous, all the tropes are here. The story takes our main protagonist, Noemi Taboada, a lively socialite, into a truly menacing setting in a mountain landscape: a beautiful old house, a place of former grandeur, now showing ever-increasing signs of neglect. She has been drawn here by a frightened plea for help from her childhood friend and companion, Catalina, trapped in the house with her deeply unsettling husband, Virgil Doyle.

Noemi is greeted and ushered into the establishment by Florence, a sinister woman who reminds me of Mrs Danvers; and within the house we find the extremely handsome but unpleasant alpha male, Virgil, who controls the agenda. Above Virgil in the family hierarchy is his father Howard, a terrifying old man mostly confined to his room by an unnamed medical condition, who rarely appears, shows signs of extreme old age in a dead white face with startling intense blue eyes, and appears only to ask Noemi strange and suspicious questions about eugenics. Occupying the archetypal role of frail, vulnerable young victim, Catalina is held captive in the house and fed mysterious medications which alternately send her into manic frenzy or tip her into a drowsy semi-hypnotic state.

The heroine, beautiful and sassy Noemi, arrives as a visitor in this house of nightmares, intent on uncovering Catalina’s true situation and rescuing her. Noemi’s ally, Francis, is Virgil’s cousin, and appears to be the only warm, caring human being in the Doyle family; but we doubt his power to take action or provide any real help.

The story follows Noemi’s journey of discovery as she attempts to unravel the dark mysteries of the house, becoming increasingly persecuted by horrific sleepwalking dreams and waking visions.

She discovers beyond doubt that this is a sick house, emanating a toxic atmosphere which seeps into and distorts her own thoughts and desires. Decadent, depraved and magnetic, Virgil Doyle holds her in his power; Frances offers to help both young women escape, but we don’t know whether we can fully trust him either, as he too is held in the grip of the family’s terrible history.

The novel weaves an intense, compelling atmosphere which explodes in a phantasmagoria of gothic horror. My own taste does not extend to true horror, HP Lovecraft style, but that is what we encounter here. I enjoy trying out different genres, but horror would not be my genre of choice for further reading. If you love the gothic genre, complete with all its tropes, you will find that here, but be warned, the horror element is quite extreme! Nevertheless I enjoyed trying out a new author I had not encountered before.

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Book Review: The Thorn of Truth by S.L. Russell

Today I am pleased to be reviewing an Advance Review copy of the latest novel by author S.L. Russell: The Thorn of Truth.

The Thorn of Truth by S.L. Russell published by Lion Fiction 21st May 2021

Having read three of this author’s previous novels I see her as a writer who opens up major ethical issues in our contemporary society, in such a way that they present a spiritual challenge to the main protagonist – and also engage us in our own dilemmas.

In each of S.L. Russell’s previous novels I have learned many new things about a profession which had formerly been a mystery to me: in her novel The Healing Knife I felt I was in the operating theatre with a senior surgeon, understanding all the details of major surgery; in this novel I found myself in a world of barristers and judges and courtrooms and the Inns of Court and the Middle Temple.

Our main protagonist Anna, a barrister, is faced with a direct personal challenge; a corrupt police officer is keen to use a new court case to put away a man he has long believed to be a drug-lord – and Anna is required to defend him in this case which she believes weak, and in which she feels convinced he is innocent. Yet she herself has strong personal reasons to get this man put down for a long time: he may well be responsible for a life-altering tragedy in her own close family.

Anna must put her own personal feelings aside and do what is right.

In this author’s previous novels, I have come to see her as a novelist who always surprises the reader with the direction in which she ultimately takes her story.

Each time, for me, the focus of the story has shifted. I think the novel is about one thing; and then it changes, and becomes something else entirely. Yet the focus on the central ethical issue remains strong.

In The Thorn of Truth, our main protagonist Anna takes a decision to defend Leaman, a man who might be a Mr Big in the drug world. She must do this despite the fact that her family may condemn her for her actions. Then her own personal involvement is complicated by her daughter’s new and growing friendship with Leaman’s own daughter. Later on the story becomes less about the guilt or innocence of this man in regard to the drugs, and instead focuses on the true killer in the current case, and the shocking and unexpected risk to her daughter Millie’s life.

In this story too, S.L. Russell interweaves the lives of three characters from her previous novel, as Anna meets and builds up a relationship with Rachel, the main protagonist of The Healing Knife, and Rachel’s husband Michael and step-son Jasper.

I found Anna’s relationship with her daughter Millie the strongest element of the novel, and was gripped by the crisis that flares up.

Ultimately this is a novel of big moral issues causing agonising ethical dilemmas which test the spiritual values of the main protagonist.

Another challenging and powerful novel from S.L. Russell.

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Book Review: ‘Hamnet’ by Maggie O’Farrell

I waited quite a long time for Waterstones to send me this book; and having received it, I spent the next few hours devouring this story of William Shakespeare’s family and the tragic death of his 11 year old son Hamnet.

Book cover of Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Living as I do near Stratford-upon-Avon I have visited all the Shakespeare properties a number of times. I will never experience Shakespeare’s Birthplace the same way again, now I have read this book. As I enter the rooms, I will imagine Ann Hathaway giving birth here, to her twins Judith and Hamnet; and in another room I will think of her laying out Hamnet’s body with loving care, sewing him into his shroud; and in another, of John Shakespeare browbeating William, or of his sister questioning or advising him.

Ann in this story is called Agnes; William himself is never named but called either ‘the Latin Tutor’ or ‘her husband’ or ‘their father / brother’. So we think of him in his relationships as an ordinary family man, rather than being distracted by the weight of his awesome reputation, over five centuries later.

The story initially moves back and forwards between two time-frames: the time of Agnes’ pregnancy with Suzanne, and the turbulent reaction of the families, and her subsequent marriage to Will; and then to the final 24 hours of Hamnet’s life, 13 years later as he falls victim to the Bubonic Plague. Life and death, beginnings and endings, are constantly interwoven, folding back on each other.

I found the book very intense, full of exquisite moment-by-moment accounts of highly emotional events, and the long period of Agnes’ grief, while her husband is in London on one of his long absences.

Will’s sister Eliza is the go-between in that she, unlike Agnes, is literate and can write the letters Agnes dictates and read the letters Will sends in return. Some have thought William Shakespeare very unloving to his wife and family, spending so much time away from them; but in this story we are offered a much more sympathetic picture. Will asks Agnes to come to London to live with him but she refuses as she fears Judith’s delicate health will suffer in the disease ridden city streets.

Ultimately with his London money Will is able to buy the gracious mansion at New Place; and I loved the descriptions of Agnes creating her dream garden there, planting many fruit trees and medicinal herbs and keeping bees and a host of cats.

The epiphany in this story comes with Agnes’ realisation of the true significance of her husband’s new tragedy ‘Hamlet’.

This is a book which will certainly have you scurrying to Google to check up on the known facts of William Shakespeare’s life and family members. You will see him in a new light and may also be deeply moved by the reality of life and death in 15th & 16th century England. A very highly recommended book.

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