A story spanning five decades, in search of an entity that shows no signs of being defeated. Paranormal investigators, priests, telepathic twins, possessed children, frightful adults, ouija boards, exorcisms, poltergeists, ghosts and demons – The Wakening is a smorgasbord of horror that brings together all the elements that make up the genre.
Fifty years ago, a young priest, Father Leo, banished a demon during an exorcism in Central America. It is back to seek revenge, bringing a now-retired Leo to confront his old enemies in the cursed town of Hastings Mills. In a series of interconnected events spread through each decade, children are possessed, spirits are called upon by reckless teenagers, and adults face their own inner demons, as secrets from the past threaten to unleash in the present. Just as the human characters are connected across place and time, the entities also forge a unique connection of their own. What has resurrected the demon? Who has followed it, and who is wreaking havoc in its name?
JG Faherty engages the reader from the first page till the last. The story doesn’t falter for a minute, even though the events of past and present alternate in an interwoven timeline. The narrative is easy to follow, leaving the reader guessing at every step of the way about the connections between the humans and non-humans. The points of view keep changing within chapters, and there are several characters to keep track of (in their childhood, adolescence and adulthood) through fifty years of the storyline. There’s a lot happening at every point, and a lot to take in for the reader. But Faherty maintains a smooth pace throughout – the story is easy to follow and never gets boring or confusing.
Faherty is a great writer and his descriptions of the various stages of possession are the highlights of the book. He transports the reader right in the middle of the inner and outer devastation. It’s almost like watching a movie. The novel is neatly balanced with research and imagination, and strikes the right blend of mystery, thriller and horror. With a range of themes that address domestic violence, child abuse, addictions and bullying, Faherty raises the question of who the real demons are. And this central arc serves as the standout feature of the novel – the coming-together of the supernatural world and the real world; each one more frightening than the other in the horrors they present.
My rating – 4/5
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
JG Faherty is the author of nine novels, eleven novellas, and more than seventy-five short stories. He has been a finalist for both the Bram Stoker Award (The Cure, Ghosts of Coronado Bay) and ITW Thriller Award (The Burning Time). He is a member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA), Science Fiction Writers of America(SFWA), International Thriller Writers (ITW), and Mystery Writers of America(MWA). He currently oversees the HWA’s Library & Literacy Program, sits on the Board of Trustees, and was recognized as the 2018 Mentor of the Year. He can be reached on Twitter @jgfaherty, on Facebook (facebook.com/jgfaherty),and on his website at jgfaherty.com.
Memoirist Cathy Rentzenbrink is known for The Last Act of Love, a devastating journey of losing her teenage brother first to a coma and then forever. In Dear Reader, she describes how reading saved her life, and the comfort of books. With personal stories that span the spectrum from heartbreaking to humorous, Cathy presents her newest book, Write It All Down – an exploration of the power of words, and the cathartic effect of penning our emotions on paper.
Why do we write? How do we express ourselves through the written word? Addressing specifically non-fiction writing, including personal essays and memoirs, Cathy guides us on how to put our lives on the page, by transforming memories into literature. She talks about using writing as therapy, mining the self for stories, getting over mental blocks, overcoming personal traumas, navigating privacy and sharing secrets.
From the specifics of memoir and personal writing, we then move on to the act of writing as a habit. Daily writing, exploring the senses, dealing with negative self-talk, balancing personal life with creative writing in drafting a memoir, how much to edit, and where does storytelling take over while sharing facts about ourselves.
The third segment of the book delves into the finer details of writing as a craft – structural edits, line edits, writing rituals, setting a time, fixing a place. In the final section, Cathy shares reading recommendations, both books on writing from established writers, and also general well written books to hone one’s writing skills from the perspective of a reader.
Memoir writing is a genre of its own. It isn’t hardcore non-fiction based entirely on research; neither is it purely fiction based on imagination and creativity. The “research” involved is digging deep into our past lives, excavating repressed or forgotten memories, and building these life stories into a coherent structure of a narrative. Citing examples from her own writing and stellar memoirs, experiences as a teacher and mentor to novice writers and students, and belief in the catharsis of words, Cathy presents an entertaining and educative book that’s a must-have in the bookshelves. Her writing isn’t preachy or textbookish; the exercises flow smoothly with the narrative and she gets us involved as readers and writers. Peppered with wonderful quotes and warmth and inspiration, Write It All Down celebrates the joys of scribbling and communing with ourselves to navigate the world. Recommended for both seasoned writers and amateurs, it serves as a handbook on the philosophical and practical challenges of writing about the self.
My rating – 5/5
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cathy Rentzenbrink is the author of the Sunday Times best-seller The Last Act of Love, and of A Manual for Heartache, Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books and Everyone is Still Alive. It took her twenty years to wrestle her own life story on the page and she loves to use what she has learnt about the profound nature of writing the self in the service of others.
Cathy has taught for Arvon, Curtis Brown Creative, at Falmouth University and at festivals and in prisons, and welcomes anyone, no matter what their experience, education, background or story. She believes that everyone’s life would be improved by picking up a pen and is at her happiest when encouraging her students to have the courage to delve into themselves and see the magic that will start to happen on the page.
I finished Generation X-ed earlier this month, and was blown away by the eclectic group of writers and range of stories in the anthology. My review of the book can be found here:
As a follow-up to my wonderful reading experience of the book, I interviewed editor Rebecca Rowland, for an insight into how Generation X-ed was conceived, created and curated.
1. Hi Rebecca, Congratulations on the release of your latest book. How would you describe the experience of working on a project with other writers, versus individually writing a book?
It’s a completely different animal. In the first anthology I edited for Dark Ink Books, I included one of my own stories; I haven’t done that since, despite selecting themes or subgenres for subsequent anthologies that I incorporate most often in my own writing. It’s too difficult wearing both hats: as an editor, you have to see the work through the eyes of the reader while simultaneously having the backs of the authors who have contributed to the project. With my own stuff, I just write what I like and rarely consider how readers might respond: I trust in the editor and the press owner to assess and dress it properly for public view. When I am writing, I am in a vacuum of sorts; as an editor, I am very conscious that how I shape and promote an anthology affects all of those authors involved. It’s much more exhausting to be an editor, unfortunately, but it’s even more rewarding on some levels as long as I know I’ve done right by those who’ve contributed their work.
2. Generation X-ed is a niche genre: horror stories set in the eighties and early nineties. How did the idea for the anthology come about?
A few years ago, I made a conscious effort to read and review more independent dark fiction. I also tried to break out of my (painfully awkward, typical writer-introvert-) shell and get to know some fellow independent horror writers. What I found was that more than three-quarters of those horror authors were my age: we shared the same formative experiences in media and music and culture. I was born smack in the middle of Generation X, a group I didn’t really understand the significance of until I was well into my thirties and forties. I recall being in college and having a house-sitting gig; the homeowners subscribed to Newsweek, and the cover story was “Generalizations X,” a deconstruction of the “slacker generation.” It was the first time that I saw myself as part of a group that was united simply due to birth timeframe, but I couldn’t get behind the analysis the article put forth. Now, I look at my generation and I realize, there are touchstones we share that helped shape us into the people we are as adults: the satanic panic, the latchkey phenomenon, the Challenger explosion (witnessed live in our classrooms), the emergence and disappearance of Mtv, and so forth. The Baby Boomers have theirs; the Millennials will have theirs. I happen to think our formative experiences are the most nefarious, which might explain the wealth of horror fiction that has sprung from Gen Xers!
3. The stories cover a range of horror sub-genres from psychological and paranormal, to comedy and sci-fi. Was this intentional, to feature stories across the horror spectrum?
The Renaissance of the slasher film occurred during Generation X’s childhood/early teens, and the birth of cable television and VCRs (coupled with a looser supervision by our parents), made access to hardcore horror relatively easy. When I first conceived the collection, I did imagine it would be focused on the splatter and gore of that subgenre: the X lends itself so well to that, visually and thematically. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that our influences weren’t limited to slashers. Each of the authors chose an individual (real or fictional) who had an impact on him/her as a horror writer: the list appears at the beginning of the collection. The range makes me realize I did the right thing broadening the parameters of the fiction I wanted to include.
4. All the writers belong to the latchkey generation and have explored their personal experiences with movies, books, music, political and historical events from the era. How did you gather stories and authors for this project?
I wrote up the call for stories, letting writers know the word count range and that we were really only requiring two things: that the writer be a member of Generation X and that the horror story include something (subtly or otherwise) specific to the generation. As the submissions came in, I was pleasantly surprised: the caliber of writing and the uniqueness in story arcs made whittling the final count down to twenty-two very difficult. There were definitely some stories that it pained me to turn away, but the ones I selected all had one thing in common: they were exceptionally well-written, and they stayed in my head hours or even days after I first read them. I wish I could give a more objective analysis of why these twenty-two ended up together, but my best explanation would be it’s part luck that these gifted authors chose to trust me with their creations, and it’s part my own gut reaction.
5. While readers born and growing up in the 70s and 80s would find resonance in the references, the stories are so well written and compiled to be enjoyable for everyone. Did you have a reader audience in mind while conceiving this anthology? As an editor, how challenging is it to cater to different reader tastes when curating a collection?
So far, I’ve been fortunate enough to curate collections where the focus has been something to which I am already drawn, and I know readers are going to choose a book based on whether its nucleus is something that already jives with their preferences. I know putting out a collection that appears age-specific is risky; however, one of the nicest feedbacks I’ve received from reviewers is my commitment to diversity in style and approach, and therefore, I’ve always kept that in mind when I am cutting down the “likely yes” pile to the final lineup.
I am drawn to read anthologies myself because of the variety: I don’t expect to love every entry, and I don’t expect readers of the anthologies I curate to love every story. However, I never want a reader to find s/he doesn’t respond to multiple stories in a row. That’s a death sentence for any collection, so careful arrangement of the tales is key. Even if the stories have a common thread, I take care to either follow one story with another from a completely different subgenre, or, if the subgenres are the same, make certain back-to-back tales utilize different points-of-view, or possess similar narrators who make very different choices. That way, there really is something for everyone. There are sly winks in Generation X-ed that will resonate specifically with those who are a part of the generation, but the heart of the collection, the things that creep and unnerve and scare the bejesus out of us no matter when we grew up, is what gives it life, so I hope everyone who enjoys good storytelling will take a look.
A unique collection of horror stories that pays tribute to the seventies and eighties. Generation X-ed turns back time with twenty-two writers who offer a glimpse into the horrors of the past. Video cassette players, slasher flicks, satanic cults, paper maps, cable repairs, alien invasions, summer vacations, creature features, rock and grunge music – the reader is transported into an era filled with cultural references that range from books to movies and music.
A challenge for the editor in not only collecting well-written horror stories adhering to the theme, but also finding writers from generation X, who have mined their memories for an eerie array of tales for the reader. From VHS tapes to MTV, hairstyles and clothes, movie theatres and film stars, political events and manmade disasters, the writers take us through time and place with very different stories, but all bound by their connection to the 70s and 80s.
My most favorite story was How I Met Kurt Russell by Rob Smales, which takes us through the movies and characters played by Kurt Russell. In a narrative hilarious and unnerving in equal parts, Smales addresses the horrors of identity, fandom and superstardom. I just loved his horror comedy, the subject of his story, and the route of exploring serious themes through humor. Some of my other favorites were In From The Cold by Adrian Wayne Ludens (the nostalgia of old photographs), A Genealogy of Hunger by Thomas Vaughn (a stellar piece of speculative fiction), Pay Heed to the Preacher Man by Eldon Litchfield (about small towns and creepy residents), Naming The Band by Elaine Pascale (hierarchies and dynamics between band members), Birnam Hall by L. E. Daniels (sheer brilliance in writing about sexual assault without actually writing about it, as a mirror to unreported cases), Stand Beside Me Now by Tim Jeffreys (for his take on haunted houses), Parker Third West by Dale W. Glaser (for his deep dive into dorm life), The Shade by C.O. Davidson (dealing with death and grief).
The stories are a mixed bunch, but they’re all entertaining in the way each of us interprets horror – as children, teenagers and adults. Although the cover depicts a slasher anthology, the collection covers sub-genres of horror from cosmic to sci-fi, psychological and paranormal, folk horror and horror comedy. Highly recommended for readers from the latchkey generation, who have lived through the era and will identify with the references. But it’s really just for everyone, to enjoy the coming-together of an exceptional bunch of writers. Kudos to editor Rebecca Rowland for accomplishing this task.
-The only ghosts anyone finds in a place like this are those they bring with them.
-…didn’t know if the world had gotten more paranoid, or if he had just finally gotten old enough to be aware of it.
-My story has power. There’s real magic at work.
-The town is not exactly dead, but seems to be undergoing a slow asphyxiation.
-People these days don’t know what it means to live close to the earth. Their minds are dispersed across a technological ether.
-The truth can be your ally.
-You can tell someone has power when folks that know better are still afraid a hundred years down the road.
-An ambush is not necessarily a bad thing. It depends on which side of the ambush you are on.
-The water couldn’t get hot enough to melt his frozen soul.
A satirical novel set in a dystopian world, where chickens are extinct, avocadoes don’t exist anymore, and humans survive on carbon dioxide. The Bacon Wave exterminated all pigs, except for one. Captain Grunter watched, as all his siblings and entire species was wiped from the face of the Earth. He has been an enigma of sorts in the new world – revered and feared. And now, with the help of his friend and saviour Marxim, he seeks justice by finding out the truth about the pigs of the world.
A journalist, Chekhov Chekhovic, is tasked with interviewing Grunter for a sponsored feature, and the swine doesn’t approve of the final article. Human and pig now join forces to figure out what went wrong with the world. Part comedic adventure in an other worldly setting; part commentary on our place in the planet, Heart of Swine is an oddball piece of allegorical fiction that entertains in its own peculiar way. Some lines are laugh-out-loud funny, others have a wry sense of humor. The book takes a while to get into and appreciate the dystopia suffused with satire. A commendable debut from the author. Recommended for readers of absurdist fiction.
Garth Tyson aspired to become a famous music icon. Riding high on the punk rock wave of the seventies, he was enthralled by his musician idols who successfully navigated the music industry. At a live performance in 1985, Garth fled the stage at Glastonbury, never to be seen again. What happened to the rock star? Where did he go? Where is he now?
DeadStar takes us on a musical trail to discover the whereabouts of a former musical legend, by going back to where he started. An unnamed journalist-narrator sets out to research about Garth Tyson, for a local magazine feature. Coming to dead ends and loose threads in Tyson’s story, he is struck by a new disaster – his house is burgled, and the toaster and kettle are the only things that have been stolen. The thief is identified as bass player Roy Richardson, a once-upon-a-time bandmate of Garth. Richardson is made to apologize for his crimes, and our narrator agrees to forgive and forget if the former fills in the blanks of the lead singer’s missing pieces.
Journalist and musician set upon a new adventure of sorts, compiling a biography of a man everyone knew, but no one really knew. Written in interview format, we meet several of Garth’s former bandmates through the decades, music executives, his family, friends and fans, who reunite to create a compelling and hilarious tale that sheds light on what really happened to him. Everyone loved the guy! So, why did he run away? And why does no one know or anyone care where he is?
In typical biography fashion, our narrator meets with willing as well as unwilling folks. Some are interviewed individually, others in pairs or groups so they can bounce ideas off each other, and information is shared back and forth and around to make sense of the enigma of Garth Tyson. We meet people who are more interested in talking about themselves than the subject, those who share too much, those who share too little, those who share anecdotes of concerts they haven’t even been to, those who avoid the media, and others who would do anything for their own 15-minutes of fame.
The conversational tone of the narrative is outstanding, as our narrator realizes his magazine article is now turning into a book. The hilarity of Garth’s bandmates’ scenes are balanced with the emotional undertones of his sister’s, and the repulsiveness of his mother’s. It’s an interesting reflection on the people we know, and what we know about what they know about us, or think they know, or don’t bother to know and just make up. Garth Tyson’s story is synonymous of people who rush towards the famous, and then disappear when fame runs out. Who are we most important to? Who are our people, and how do we know who our people are?
A music oral history presented as a written mockumentary, interspersed with the greatest songs and singers of the 70s and 80s, with eccentric characters that leave you in splits all along the way. The banter between Roy and Gary is just too funny. A very well researched book, that also showcases the author’s love for and knowledge of the music of the era. It almost reads like an actual biography. A refreshing work of fiction to start the new year with.
My rating – 5/5
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nick Griffiths’ first printed work was a review of The Shamen, in Sounds, dated November 1989. The once psychedelic band had gone house and he simply didn’t understand. After Sounds – his music weekly of choice throughout his youth, so a dream come true – he was headhunted for the launch of Select magazine, for whom he wrote reviews and features, involving a brief but swoonsome meeting with his all-time hero, David Bowie. David gently advised Nick to given Lodger another listen, so he did.
Moving on to women’s and computer games magazines by the mid-1990s, Nick settled freelancing for the Radio Times and Daily Mail, reviewing TV shows and interviewing their stars, too numerous to mention. He became Radio Times’ Doctor Who correspondent after the show’s return in 2005, which led to him being commissioned by Gollancz/Orion to write his first book, a memoir about growing up as a Doctor Who fan, titled Dalek I Loved You (2007).
A Whovian travelogue, Who Goes There, followed, from Legend Press, who also published Nick’s comic novels, In the Footsteps of Harrison Dextrose and Looking for Mrs Dextrose. Having also written freelance for several of the national broadsheets, Nick quit journalism in 2011 to move from London to Cornwall (where his wife grew up), with his young family.
Since 2014 he has been running the vintage-lighting shop, Any Old Lights, in Fowey, but really missed writing. Hence his first book in ten years: DeadStar.
A historically significant book from Nepali literature, that takes us through the Gorkha revolution of the eighties. Song of the Soil begins with the death of Ripden in an earthquake. Ripden gets trapped and crushed in a subsequent landslide and his body is never found. His family calls an old school friend who is now a prominent journalist, in the hope of featuring photographs of the disaster and a story about Ripden’s death, so that they can claim compensation in the absence of a body.
Starting in first person, an unnamed narrator revisits his childhood home in Darjeeling, on hearing about the aforementioned character. From here, the reader is taken through Ripden’s story, his relationship with the narrator, and why the former is so important even in death. The novel begins from the end, and brings us back to the start – a story of death and the life behind it. We learn about Ripden’s childhood and his truancy in school, the rumored killing of his father by his school teacher, and his running away from home with the narrator. The final act acquaints the two young boys with an elderly man, who narrates the story of the revolution. The old uncle was best friends with Ripden’s father in their childhood, and from here we hear about the supposedly dead father’s life story.
It is interesting how the point of view continues in first person, but is narrated by another character. The second part of the story forms the crux of the novel – the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland in the 1980s. A fight that began against the local state police, and ended with different factions of the revolutionaries fighting each other instead. Youngsters are taken out of school and taught to build weapons, homes and institutions are burned, friends turn foes, and nobody knows whom to trust. Kill or be killed for the land is the motto, but who does one fight for, with and against? The book asks a pertinent question – In a revolution, who ultimately wins, and who loses?
I love to see how a title fits into the story of a book, and the revelation of Song of the Soil brings goosebumps. It’s also intriguing how a translated title differs from the original, and the book enlightens us about both Faatsung and Song of the Soil.
Song of the Soil is a hard-hitting fictional account of true events. Originally written in Nepali, I heard Kabimo’s prose is lyrical and evocative. The English translation does not appear fluid and literary – the sentences are often staccato, with repetitive words and lines. The tone of the narrative changes from start to finish, and it feels like two different writers have written the book. Towards the latter half, the writer breaks the fourth wall. It’s hard to say whether this was intentional and in the original text, or made its way into the translation, but the inconsistent structure disrupts the reading experience.
From the feedback I’ve received from those who have read the original version, Kabimo’s writing has a completely different tone and effect. Sadly, this would be the case for a lot of translated works, where one does not know the original language and is left entirely to the mercy of translators. I’m still grateful for the chance to read Kabimo’s story. If not for translators, many books would have never reached readers.
This is a wonderful book and deserves to be read. I just hoped the quality of the English translation was better.
While the festive season is filled with cozy mysteries and charming Christmassy stories, this horror book brought a change to the usual Christmas reading fare. I had picked it up many months ago, and was waiting for the Christmas season to begin reading. On its surface, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear appears like a collection of short stories, each one named after the twelve days of Christmas, with a theme that follows suit. So, we have one haunted fir tree, two suspicious cats, seven screaming children, nine broken snow globes, eleven frightening whistles, and so on. Dorian Sinnott cleverly winds these seemingly unconnected tales into a novel of its own, as characters move across the different stories – a minor character in one being the protagonist in another. I loved this interweaving narrative that brought to mind Yoko Ogawa’s equally stellar horror Revenge, and Jane Borges’ cultural fiction Bombay Balchao.
A story within a story makes for an interesting reading experience, and Sinnott’s dark take on the Christmas season is absolutely magnificent. He presents the usual tropes of Santa, Mrs. Claus, Jack Frost, Elf on the Shelf, snow globes, naughty and nice children, and also brings in cultures and traditions from around the world with the Julbock and Krampus. We have a range of characters, both children and adults alongside animals and mythical creatures, as the reader is taken through ancient practices and historical events, contemporary rituals and Christmas parties.
The prologue and epilogue are written in verse, and Sinnott once again shines through as a writer proficient in both prose and poetry. I had read short stories from this author in anthologies, but this was my first full-fledged novel from him, and it’s unputdownable. A wonderful premise and very well written. Not a word or punctuation mark out of place. Definitely a writer I would want to read more from.
It Came Upon A Midnight Clear isn’t fluffy Christmas fare. It’s an out-and-out horror novel and recommended for horror readers. If you love horror fiction, do not miss this book. It’s a keepsake in the bookshelves.
The Long Field is a lyrical memoir set in the Welsh countryside that tells stories through the lens of the Welsh word ‘hiraeth’. Hiraeth has no literal translation. In Welsh it means ‘long field,’ which describes the Welsh landscape in Petro’s story. Hiraeth also refers to ‘homesickness’ – a deep longing for an irretrievable elsewhere. An awareness of the presence of absence.
Petro had visited Wales for her Masters degree, and fell at once at home in a new place. On returning to America, her longing for the country didn’t fade. And so, she sought to describe her feelings about a place she never really knew, but felt she really belonged. In The Long Field, she tells us her story, and the story of Wales itself.
Part research, part nature documentary, part travel experience, and part memoir, Petro braids the chapters of The Long Field to encompass her description of hiraeth. As a life story, the narrative isn’t linear. The book reads like a series of interconnected short stories. We learn about an American who pines for Wales; a gay woman in a same-sex relationship; a survivor of a horrific train wreck; a daughter of a parent with dementia. We learn about Wales itself and how the nation embeds experiences and emotions. Petro talks about hiraeth in terms of land and home – the physical space and the emotional connection. She addresses hiraeth in religion, technology, ancestry, gender, environment, politics. Over the course of the book, hiraeth evolves from an awareness of loss and longing to a creative response to loss.
The Long Field is a wonderfully written book. It isn’t a typical memoir, neither is it a collection of personal essays. It is one thing and many things, and Petro intertwines them all gracefully to show us hiraeth. The cover is beautiful, and just like a painting, Petro’s palette of colors and brushes creates a masterpiece of prose.
Before partnership with a former army doctor recently returned from Afghanistan, Sherlock Holmes had but the quiet company of his own great intellect. Solitary he might be but, living as he did for the thrill of the chase, it was enough.
For a little while, at the least, it was enough.
That is, until a client arrives at his door with a desperate plea and an invitation into a world of societal scandal and stage door dandies. Thrust deep in an all-consuming role and charged with the safe-keeping of another, Holmes must own to his limits or risk danger to others besides himself in this the case of the aluminium crutch.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
M. K. Wiseman has degrees in Interarts & Technology and Library & Information Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her office, therefore, is a curious mix of storyboards and reference materials. Both help immensely in the writing of historical novels. She currently resides in Cedarburg, Wisconsin.