Review: Michael Finkel – The Stranger in the Woods

The Stranger in the Woods
Michael Finkel

Christopher Knight drove until his truck ran out of petrol, then walked into the woods and didn’t speak to another human for another 27 years. He survived in only a tent through the harshest winters of Maine, stealing food from nearby communities to survive. As a riddle and a legend, most feared his invasions into their homes – despite never actually seeing him.

I learnt some really fascinating things about surviving in the woods, or at least in cold temperatures. I couldn’t stop telling people about all the cool things I had learnt and the implications and complaints of the novel in terms of its comments on society. Please go and buy or borrow a copy of this novel! It is a fantastic read.

I think it is unfair to say that he is ‘the last true hermit’. There could be other hermits out there that just haven’t been caught or identified, particularly in Asian countries where meditation and retreat is revered. What comes to mind is an isolated tribe that was only recently discovered by entirely an accident. I liked that the novel did explore some of the hermits of the past.

After I finished this novel, I was left dying to know more about his life after the period covered in the novel. I googled, and googled, and all I got were photos of Chris that destroyed the picture of him I had in my head. I appreciate his need for privacy, and his family’s need for privacy.

I’d be keen to go ‘off-grid’ and live a slightly more hermit-y life. I’d need someone to provide me with novels though, and I’m not sure my body fat is sufficient to keep me through a icey winter! Also, I really like my family and I wouldn’t want them to get left behind (or not know where I had gone). That’s life.

Simon & Schuster | 1st March 2017 | AU $29.99 | Paperback

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Review: Laurie Frankel – This Is How It Always Is

This Is How It Always Is
Laurie Frankel

Penn couldn’t keep away from Rosie when she was interning as a doctor and he was writing his ‘damn novel’. When they inevitably get married, they know that they want a couple of kids – and end up with 4 boys before having a final run of getting a biological girl. Instead, they get Claude, who for his fifth birthday wants to ‘be a girl’. This novel is an exploration of what happens in a family, and a community, when a secret this big is kept for years.

This is from the perspective of the adults for the most part, but the omniscient narrator reveals all that you could hope for. It’s not ‘just another transgender novel’. Some of the lines from it are so memorable and touching that you will be tempted to cry. It’s ok – I cried, I’m not going to hold it against you.

I’ve left this too long before writing a review to give you a proper run-down of what I loved about it. Just reading other people’s reviews on GoodReads of this novel makes me want to read it again.

The author is a parent of a transgender child, but this is not her story. This is a fictionalised account which I think could reflect many families’ experiences when it comes to living with (and to an extent, explaining) a child with gender dysphoria. All I can say is that more novels like this help de-mystify gender dysphoria to the general population and perhaps will help reduce the horrifically high rate of transgender suicides.

I’ll give this the full five stars – I couldn’t stop reading it and talking about it to my partner. This is for adults, and fits a niche that George and Luna (both decent teenage/YA novels in their own rights) just don’t fill. I loved it, not because it was a niche novel, but because it was bloody well written.

Hachette Australia | 1st February 2017 | AU $32.99 | Paperback

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Review: Robin Storey – An Affair with Danger

An Affair with Danger
Robin Storey

Will is held up in an armed robbery, and can no longer think straight. His life as a lawyer should have prepared for the court to stand witness, but instead he finds himself falling for the perp’s girlfriend, Frankie. What follows is an affair that is perhaps a little dangerous.

The author gets points for making the novel potentially race along, skipping years where necessary to make the plot move. What redeemed this novel a little was the writing style, and the gentle nature of the male protagonist. He wasn’t all macho, which made it a refreshing change from other romance novels. Not to mention it was a MALE protagonist, which is rare in this genre.

This was a throwaway novel. It’s nothing special, I’m sorry to say. Where it fails is that it didn’t leave me with a sense of having gained anything in reading it. I didn’t get attached enough to the characters, I didn’t learn anything particularly pertinent about being a lawyer. It left me feeling lukewarm, with the romance/affair not being ‘throbbing’ enough to keep my attention.

This author did send me this novel off her own bat, and has spent a very unfair amount of time waiting for this review. I also interviewed her back in 2016. It makes me wish I could have gotten more out of the novel and given it a more positive review. I’m going to give it a lower end of a 3 star review, because I did finish reading it.

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Interview with Frank Daidone

An Interview with Frank Daidone, author of Life’s Equation

 

 

For those who haven’t read it yet, can you give us a quick summary of what Life’s Equation is all about?

It’s really about asking ourselves ‘What is my purpose?” More specifically, questioning whether or not we’re on the right path. As far back as I can remember, I’ve attempted to make sense of my own purpose in life, sometimes accepting only what seemed realistic while disregarding pretty much anything else. Most of us subconsciously go through this same exercise throughout multiple stages of our lives, while others constantly surrender to the critical voice in their head, replacing the possibility and creativity with resistance and doubt.

We all have the tendency to set unfulfilling goals for ourselves, which restricts our personal potential and makes us miss valuable opportunities because of our own struggle with self-doubt.

That’s how Life’s Equation came together. I wanted to share my own stories about people I’ve met along the way who influenced me in inspiring ways while also elaborating further on some basic, but unexpected truths and life lessons that I hope, in turn, will inspire readers of the book. I hope readers will celebrate their experiences through logically discovering their true purpose, all while helping to make the world a better place in the process.

You are accomplished in so many parts of your life. What inspired you to take the plunge into authoring a book?

I’ve always had a unique, and I believe, acute perspective on reality. I also almost always apply logic to projects, challenges and truly any issue I’m dealt with, working to eliminate and/or reduce any emotional barriers that can cloud judgment and clarity. Throughout my life, I’ve had the ability to see my life and experiences both internally and externally.
In other words, while I’m experiencing situations in the moment whether mundane or extraordinary, I’m collecting the information, almost as an observer, to be able to apply it in a scientific manner to gain a clearer perspective and understanding. I began putting a pen to paper to create a formula that made sense of one’s experiences and how information gained from those experiences is constituted through exploring a common energy in all living things twenty years ago. The reflection of my life’s experiences through this process is what inspired me to be a writer.

Memoirs are such a delicate craft – it’s really a balance between personal and the
universal. Was it difficult to balance the two?

Not really, when you have the connection of the personal to the universal, clarity and balance of the two become more accessible. The process itself was transformational and certainly there were certain roadblocks as it was almost like working in real time. Different from most people, I don’t have a problem putting myself out there, in fact I needed to check in to make sure it wasn’t too much and wanted to keep my stories relevant and with empathy for the readers.

What do you consider to be the most essential elements of a well-written memoir?

I strongly believe that when one chooses to write such a personal exposé, it’s essential to go “all in.” In other words, if you’re not going to put everything out there from the beginning to the end, even being remotely tentative, you might want to choose another route. It’s just my personal opinion, but I believe writing in a relatable manner including honest stories, both humorous and heartbreaking is essential to a good memoir.

Each chapter provides incredible insight and an overall lesson. Do you have a favorite from the book?

That’s a hard question because I believe the lessons in all of the chapters are pertinent to the message. However, if I were to answer the question honestly, I do have a few; Chapter four on perspective is one of the individually empowering concepts that the reader can actually have control over. I also like the final chapter on “purpose” because it incorporates imagination in order to help craft one’s future.

Your book has been impacting people across all ages and stages of their life. What’s the biggest lesson you hope they take away from reading Life’s Equation?

The feedback both verbally and through written reviews has been extraordinary. I’ve had people both young and old thank me in very emotional manners for writing the book and have expressed to me how much the message impacted them personally and often times helped with healing. I hope that the readers gain an understanding that while we are all unique in our own way, there really is a common energy in all of us. I hope that message is clarified and inspires them to want to help make the world a better place, not just for themselves, but for all.

A percentage your book sales goes toward United Cerebral Palsy. Can you tell us a bit more about how and why you got involved with the organization?

As children, alongside my family, my sister and I were both volunteers for UCP as a result of my brother having Cerebral Palsy. In dedicating my book to my brother, I felt it necessary to get involved with a related organization to help in any way I could and formed a relationship with the Director of Institutional Support and donate $1 of every book sale to UCP.

That’s truly incredible! Can you tell us a bit about your brother Anthony, and how his CP impacted your family dynamic growing up? How did it affect you?

Anthony was and still is my true hero and my inspiration for practically every charge in my life. While we never exchanged words verbally to each other we had a very special connection. His joy of life despite his extraordinary inhibiting circumstances far surpassed any level of contentment I have ever witnessed in any human being. While our family growing up was restricted to doing practically any normal family activities, outings or vacations together, Anthony’s existence enriched the dynamic in our family and shaped who we all are today.

What’s on the horizon for you as an author? Can we expect to see more writing from you in 2017 and beyond?

I am currently working on book number two as we speak. It is a continuation of Life’s Equation by taking the ideas and concepts to a new level attempting to address issues we all face as a society. I have a vision of a brighter more peaceful existence for all living things and I see a clear path on how we can get there. My next book will be a roadmap for peace.

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Guest Post: Erik Therme on ‘Kindle Scout’

An Introduction to Kindle Scout!

I’m excited to hold a guest post today by Erik Therme! I’ve previously interviewed Erik for the release of his second novel, and reviewed his first novel, Morton. This newest novel is titled ROAM.

Erik wants to tell us about Kindle Scout as an option for non-traditional publishing. Take it away Erik!

One of the questions I’m most commonly asked is one of the most difficult to answer: “How should I publish my book? Should I pursue a traditional publishing deal, which might take months—if not years—to attain? Or should I self-publish, which leaves me in total creative control . . . but also in control of everything?” The easy answer, of course, is that both paths have their pros and cons, but what many people don’t realize is there’s a third option: Kindle Scout.

For those not familiar with Scout, it’s an Amazon program where readers “vote” on whether or not a book should be awarded a publishing contract. Authors promote their book for 30 days, and at the end of that time, the Scout team makes a determination. The process is surprisingly simple.

The first thing you need is a cover. Sure, you can whip one up yourself using free online tools, but let me offer a strong caveat: To be a fiscally successful writer, you have to treat your writing like a business, which means spending money. Think of your cover as an investment. It’s the first thing a reader is going to see. Yes, it can get pricey to have one designed from scratch, but pre-made covers are prevalent and affordable. Two of my books—Resthaven and Roam—were both existing covers from a pre-made site, and I’ve gotten numerous compliments on both. Spend some money on a cover. You won’t regret it.

Next: uploading your manuscript. The Scout site recommends your book be professionally copyedited before submission, but for those who can’t afford that expense, fear not—if the book is selected, it will be edited before publication. Some books receive light in-house editing, while others are outsourced to Kirkus. Regardless, having your book copyedited before you submit will only increase your chances of having it selected, so if you have the funds, it’s not a bad idea.

Last, but certainly not least, is your book description. I could easily write an entire post on crafting book blurbs, but for now, I’ll keep it simple. At minimum, you want to disclose the protagonist, the setting, and reveal the conflict. Show what’s at stake. Your goal is to hook the reader and entice them into wanting more. Some authors joke it’s more difficult to write the book description than the actual book, but don’t despair; practice makes perfect!

And with that, you’re ready to submit. Once everything is uploaded, it only takes a few days for your campaign to go live on the Kindle Scout site. If your campaign receives a lot of page visits and votes (or nominations, as they call them) your book goes into the “Hot & Trending” category. The longer it stays in this category, the better chance it has of being noticed. The final selection process is based on multiple factors, and no one—not even previous Scout winners—knows the exact criteria.

Writing a book in itself is a major accomplishment and one you should be proud of –regardless of whether or not you’re selected. All you can do is write the best book you can, believe in yourself, and try to make your own luck.

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Review: Emily Fridlund – History of Wolves

History of Wolves
Emily Fridlund

Linda lives in an ex-commune with parents who love her, but are a bit off-handed with their parenting. School isn’t perfect either, being labeled a commie and a freak. But it’s not like she is interested in school anyway. The chance to make some money and babysit the new neighbour’s kid seems the perfect idle escape.

Sold as a ‘Coming of Age’ novel, I honestly don’t know why I kept reading this novel. Linda doesn’t even make a choice, as promised in the blurb. She just wanders along in her own life, with no absolution and no explanations.

For me, it was not obvious that Paul was sick, until he was really sick and sleeping a lot. Kids get sick right? Linda takes him out in the forest and he seems like a perfectly normal boy to me. A quick google didn’t tell me how long a child is likely to last in his condition, but 4 years seems like a long time to survive.

Again, this novel had flicking back and forwards in time, making me feel slightly sick and very confused! Why should I care about your current life Linda? Why should I care about your behaviour towards Lily and the teacher? Why should I care about anything in this novel?

I understand that this novel is trying to expose at least some of what goes wrong in Christian Scientist lives – they believe that if you don’t think you (or anyone else) is ill, you will survive. I could also argue the same for other religions where blood transfusions are not permitted etc. I think for this novel to have worked on me, I needed the connection to be more explicit.

I hoped and hoped for this novel’s redemption, but it never happened. I’m even hesitating to give 2 stars, even though I finished it. Choose something else. If you want another novel with death and lies, pick Wolf Hollow, even though I didn’t love that one much either.

Hachette Australia | 1st January 2017 | AU $29.99 | Paperback

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Review: Sally Hepworth – the mother’s promise

the mother’s promise
Sally Hepworth

Alice refuses to accept that she is dying. She’s come through other health scares before, because she doesn’t have a choice. She’s the only person in 15 year old Zoe’s life that Zoe can trust to any extent. As things progress, both Alice and Zoe must learn to let go – and so must Kate and Sonja.

This novel hit me. The writing is powerful and it makes the reader slip effortlessly inside each of the women’s minds. Each has a unique view of the world, and their place in it – it seems like they are running their lives, but really there are external, unknown factors making an impact. The reader will be invested irrevocably in the story.

I’ve tagged this as Women’s Fiction, but really that’s quite unfair. This novel is edgy and painful to read, and not soppy at all. It will make you hurt in the end, even if you are ambivalent about some of the characters.

I was on the edge of my seat towards the end. I couldn’t put it down and I stayed up far too late to see the ending. The ending was inevitable, and yet at the same time it had a twist that the reader might have seen coming. Oooh, spine-shiveringly good.

I think that I may need to revise my ratings system of 5 stars if I am going to reread it. I’m giving this novel 5 stars because it made me cry, and it made me feel everything that the women were going through.

Pan Macmillan | 1st March 2017 | AU $29.99 | Paperback

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Review: Emily Reynolds – A Beginner’s Guide to Losing Your Mind

A Beginner’s Guide to Losing Your Mind
Emily Reynolds

Emily Reynolds struggled with depression from teenagerhood, ending in a period of psychosis that finally had her correctly diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder type I. This novel is her insights on how to cope, how to get help and how to speak to others about having a mental illness.

Emily has written a brilliant guide for those who might be affected by mental illness, either as a patient or as a concerned friend. Her articulation of the problems she faced in getting a diagnosis and getting well are ones that many with non-physical illnesses will recognise.

You’re going to need to be a bit insensitive to lots of swearing, the text is liberally scattered with them. But for me, this rang true as the mind of someone with mental health things going on. Sometimes just saying ‘f*** it’ is all you can do! And being sick is something that you can swear about.

At times, Emily’s conversational tone seems a little much for the ordinary reader, but there are real gems of wisdom in there. I particularly liked her section on relationships and how NOT to tell someone you have health problems! Emily says that every person is supposed to have a novel in them, but honestly I feel like Emily has already written mine!

Towards the end of the novel I started feeling quite weighed down by her discussions of suicide and self-harm. Although lighthearted, it’s not exactly easy reading. In addition, her frank discussions on the impact her uncontrolled illness had on her family were potentially unsettling. In fact, it came as quite a relief that a significant chunk was helpful resources and acknowledgements.

Buy this for a loved one, buy it for yourself. I am certain that the style of this novel will not be for anyone, but it is worth trying it out. Despite giving this 5 stars, I’m not sure it is going to remain on my shelf – I want it to get out there and be available for other people who are less experienced than I in this field.

Hachette Australia | 28th February 2017 | AU $32.99 | Paperback

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Review: Emma Geen – The Many Selves of Katherine North

The Many Selves of Katherine North
Emma Geen

Katherine (Kit) has been projecting her consciousness into endangered animals in an effort to understand them for longer than any others in her job – 7 years in fact. After the death of her host Ressie while she is inhabiting it, Kit starts to get a bit paranoid about what her company might be doing behind the scenes. Can she stop them before it is too late?

I’d like to hear other people’s opinions about this novel. What do you feel like you gained from it? It took me a long time to sink into this novel, and then I struggled with the then/now perspective changes. I recognised Kit’s mind struggling with the same thing, and I couldn’t separate her projections away from the truth.

It has a very interesting premise, that it is possible to go inside an animal’s body and control the limbs. The fact that the mind can comprehend it at all is amazing – the concept of ‘plasticity’. Of course, the animal is an empty shell, and so you can become almost anything. I couldn’t understand how you would get funding for such a thing! Research studies have enough trouble getting funding as it is, let alone for a body that can be harmed.

What I felt confused about was the tourists. How could they adjust to the syndrome of swapping bodies when Katherine herself always struggled? Clamping down on sensations is one thing, muting the whole experience is another.

Also, what’s so bad about human Ressies? It’s no worse than say inhabiting a cyborg, and it’s potentially less dangerous, depending on where you put the Ressie out! Perhaps that’s the crux of why I didn’t understand this novel, and why I’m only giving it 3 stars.

Bloomsbury | 1st July 2016 | AU $28.00 | Paperback

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Review: Garth Nix – FROGKISSER!

FROGKISSER!
Garth Nix

Princess Anya always gets the responsibility of cleaning up after her sister’s messes. Unfortunately, she’s also trying to avoid her step-step father killing her off and taking the throne. When her step-step father makes yet another one of her sister’s wooers a frog, it’s up to Anya to save the day.

Who wouldn’t love a plucky heroine who really just wants to sit in her library and study sorcery? Oh wait, maybe that’s just me. No! I don’t think so. Nix has once again created a strong female character with a set of unique character flaws. She’s young enough to be appealing to young readers, but there are some in-jokes in the novel that teenagers would enjoy too.

I’m going to be handing over my copy of this novel to a 16 year old keen Garth Nix reader to see what he thinks. Is this novel particularly new and exciting? Is it adding something exciting to the genre of fairytales? Maybe is all I can say. It is certainly better than some of the other offerings out there, and if you like Garth Nix, you will probably still love this novel.

What you can’t see from the cover image is the glorious fluorescent yellow page edges. Check out my instagram to see them. It almost makes me want to put the book back-to-front on my bookshelf so that it can stand out!

I can see where this novel could easily become a series – there is reference to an overall set of Rules after all. But this novel was perfect in itself. This novel is far better than the other recent Nix novel, Newt’s Emerald, but not as good as Clariel or Goldenhand. I’m giving it 4 stars, although I would consider reading it again should a sequel appear.

Allen & Unwin | 22 February 2017 | AU $19.99 | Paperback

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