Category Archives: Fiction

The Eye-Dancers – Michael S. Fedison

Seventh-grader Mitchell Brant and three of his classmates inexplicably wake up at the back edge of a softball field to the sounds of a game, the cheering of the crowd. None of them remembers coming here. And as they soon learn, “here” is like no place they’ve ever seen. Cars resemble antiques from the 1950s. There are no cell phones, no PCs. Even the spelling of words is slightly off.

A compulsive liar, constantly telling fantastic stories to garner attention and approval, Mitchell can only wish this were just one more of his tall tales. But it isn’t. It’s all too real. Together, as they confront unexpected and life-threatening dangers, Mitchell and his friends must overcome their bickering and insecurities to learn what happened, where they are, and how to get back home.

The answers can be found only in the mysterious little girl with the blue, hypnotic eyes. The one they had each dreamed of three nights in a row before arriving here. She is their only hope. And, as they eventually discover, they are her only hope.

And time is running out.

The Eye-Dancers, is a story of friendship that has a great nostalgic vibe, bearing similarities in feeling to such coming of age stories like Stephen King’s The Body (the film being titled Stand By Me), mixed in with a classic sci-fi, à la The Twilight Zone.  Both of which infuse the prose with their respective flavours and make this story extremely enjoyable to read.

There are plenty of real world YA issues covered here, from self-doubt to broken families, all without getting too heavy.  It’s the mixture of the real life and fantastical, and the way Fedison balances it, that is a real strength for this book. The mystery itself is not as clear-cut or clichéd as adult readers long familiar with the genre may guess at when reading the blurb, which is a relief and not at all surprising, considering the author’s blog posts, the link of which you will find at the bottom of this post. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 12/03/2018 in Children's Literature, Fiction, Sci-Fi


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A Month in the Country – J. L. Carr

A damaged survivor of the First World War, Tom Birkin finds refuge in the quiet village church of Oxgodby where he is to spend the summer uncovering a huge medieval wall-painting. Immersed in the peace and beauty of the countryside and the unchanging rhythms of village life he experiences a sense of renewal and belief in the future. Now an old man, Birkin looks back on the idyllic summer of 1920, remembering a vanished place of blissful calm, untouched by change, a precious moment he has carried with him through the disappointments of the years.

It’s been an utter pleasure rereading this splendid short book, heading back to 1920’s Oxgodby and its five hundred year old church painting. Reacquainting myself with the inhabitants, and a way of life lost to time reminded me of Carr’s evocative prose and the beauty of the English countryside.

This is a great story to get lost in – one which demands repeat readings be savoured – it really accentuates the little things in life, those wondrous things that surround us, yet seem hidden in plain sight until viewed in hindsight. There is a comforting sense of isolation here, a total delight to be immersed in.

The plot revolves around the methodical and gradual uncovering of a medieval wall painting and this also extends to the personalities of the  people.  As time moves on there is a slow exposing of both, as well as the social life of the village.  All this is played out in such a relaxed manner that the under the surface busyness is very subtly played out.

Birkin’s love for mechanisms and how the parts slot together are a fitting metaphor for how he sees the community and also in a literal sense of the time. There is a feeling of being on the cusp of changes in his life, in the rhythms of countryside and nature and how the industrial age is really starting to impact the isolated countryside.  It’s pleasurably melancholy and allows readers of any age to feel the loss of what once was. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 05/03/2018 in Fiction


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I, Claudius – Robert Graves

Despised for his weakness and regarded by his family as little more than a stammering fool, the nobleman Claudius quietly survives the intrigues, bloody purges and mounting cruelty of the imperial Roman dynasties. In I, Claudius he watches from the sidelines to record the reigns of its emperors: from the wise Augustus and his villainous wife Livia to the sadistic Tiberius and the insane excesses of Caligula. Written in the form of Claudius’ autobiography, this is the first part of Robert Graves’s brilliant account of the madness and debauchery of ancient Rome, and stands as one of the most celebrated, gripping historical novels ever written.

Sometimes, reflecting on the literature that you like is disturbing, especially with a novel such as this which is full of violence – although surprisingly less detailed gore than one would imagine for the era – and debauchery .  It is a pleasure to report that I unashamedly loved this book in all its blood soaked storytelling.

This novel and its sequel Claudius the God were written in a hurry and only due to pressing financial needs Graves claimed, which makes it an astonishing feat for the impressive quality of the work on offer.  Whilst it has some gross distortions of history and the featured personalities, it is wonderfully entertaining and highly readable as a fictional autobiography should be.  You don’t need to be familiar with the era, part of the charm of the work is to research as you go and see what is correct, contentious and what is pure propaganda on Claudius’ part.

Claudius is a likeable narrator, his observant nature makes for a considered historian – his chosen profession – largely ignored because of his disabilities and perceived lack of intelligence, this allowed him to avoid the jealousies (and untimely fates) of his power seeking contemporaries.  Watching from the sidelines as our narrator does, the reader is given the impression of happy accidents or small triumphs that are attributed to Claudius yet with what we know from history, this adds another unreliable slant to the narration which is pleasantly and sometimes endearingly human.

The plot is a seething mass of machinations from the off and curiously, for an autobiography, begins before the birth of Claudius.  The sheer volume of scheming and drama put all modern soap operas to shame and the amount of detail – fictitious or otherwise – shows why this is considered to be a modern classic in the historical fiction genre.  Although it seems convoluted, and it is in a good way, everything is made clear and the reader is never swamped with too much information at one time.

Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 02/03/2018 in Autobiography, Fiction


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Intraterrestrial – Nicholas Conley

Adam Helios is a bully magnet without many friends. When he starts hearing a voice that claims to come from the stars, he fears he’s losing his mind, so he withdraws even further. On the way home from a meeting at the school, he and his parents are involved in a horrible car crash. With his skull cracked open, Adam’s consciousness is abducted by the alien who has been speaking to him for months.

After surviving the wreck with only minor scratches, Camille Helios must deal with her guilt over the accident that left her husband badly injured and her son in a coma. When the doctor suggests letting Adam go, Camille refuses to stop fighting for her son’s life.

Lost among galaxies, Adam must use his imagination to forge a path home before his body dies on the operating table. But even if he does return to Earth, he may end up locked inside a damaged brain forever.

Inveterate coffee drinking author and fellow blogger Nicholas Conley is back again with another fine offering which treads the fine line between what is real and what may not be.  He also comes up with such prose as this, which makes me happy:

The coffee was too hot and too grainy.  The fiery grounds jabbed at Camille’s tongue like a tattoo gun.

Conley’s fourth novel is yet again a very good piece of writing and just like his other novel Pale Highway, draws on his experiences working in the understaffed healthcare system to reinforce the plight of Adam and family with solidly realistic emotional reactions.  The strong start brings in the challenging themes straight from the off:  Bullying, being orphaned, belonging, puberty, guilt, and family problems, all before the main story of a terrible and all too easy to imagine car accident really kicks off.

I’m glad that the decision to focus on both Adam and his parents separately was chosen, this help balance out the physical and psychological effects of the real world whilst making room for the retention of the feeling of tangible and unfettered imagination in Adam’s story.  Both parts work well together, allowing the realistic edge of the hospital to give way to the extravagance of imagination, ensuring for an easier but no less challenging read. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 23/02/2018 in Fiction, Sci-Fi


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The Eye Opener – Indrajit Garai

In this collection, meet:
Franck, who has to align his desires with his needs; Nathan, who has to adjust to his constantly changing turf; and, Cedric, who has to open his eyes to reconstruct himself.

After reading volume one of Indrajit Garai’s short stories entitled Sacrifices – which I enjoyed a lot –  volume two was much-anticipated by this reader.  It was a pleasant surprise then, to recently find an email sat in my inbox, offering the second book up for review.

In this round of stories, there is a more international feel, instead of focusing solely on France. The demanding circumstances and struggles of the characters remain the same, however and retain the emotional impact of everyday struggles and problems.  All walks of life depicted here, meaning plenty of variety in the works on offer.

Garai’s strength lie in humanising his characters, making the reader feel invested in the characters, sympathising with their trials and the things they do in order to survive; allowing us to examine ourselves through the protagonists.  The important things in life can be so often forgotten, as these stories show so without spoiling anything I will succinctly give a brief outline of each story.

The Alignment takes the odious subject of hoarded riches and how it is moved around to the detriment of the workers who need the security. As well as the perception of social status regarding money and the people who have it. The sheer waste of money is highlighted along with legal but morally shady big business practises used everyday.   Also there is the persona aspect of how easy it is to blinded by the gaining of wealth, instead of caring for those around us; which is the true richness of life.

The second story, The Changing Turf, is about contact with a different culture, the contrasts and fitting in.  This story didn’t entirely convince me, although I sympathised with Nathan, I didn’t really like his character, he became a little annoying in some of his ways after a time.  The ending a little obvious to me as well, and I felt this to be the weakest story of both of Garai’s books to date. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 22/01/2018 in Fiction


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Black Sheep – Susan Hill

Brother and sister, Ted and Rose Howker, grew up in Mount of Zeal, a mining village blackened by coal. They know nothing of the outside world, though both of them yearn for escape. For Rose this comes in the form of love, while Ted seizes the chance of a job away from the pit. But neither can truly break free and their decisions bring with them brutal consequences…

dispensing with the normal ghost story – always atmospherically written by Hill –  which has become a bit of a tradition for me around the holiday season, this year I chose this short story instead to mix it up a bit.  Whilst not being conducive to Christmas cheer in any way whatsoever, it was a very rewarding read.

As the front cover says this is a bleak piece of writing and I can imagine that a lot of people may well be put off by that, however I really appreciated it for its unflinching portrayal of a tough and cheerless life.  The story is told in few words and as such the shortness of the book helps the reader through, as being under 150 pages long/short means the story is manageable over a brief period and doesn’t drag the reader into too much despair.

The miners and their families are easily recognisable, they could have come from other iconic works.  The citizens of the community resemble less extreme versions of those found in Zola’s Germinal or Dickens’ Hard Times for example. It does feel almost clichéd in that respect Hill writes on the side of accuracy as memorably depicted by plenty of authors and social commentors such as George Orwell’s insightful and agonising The Road to Wigan Pier.

As well written as it is, sometimes this is a tough read but I found it a book I could read quickly and more importantly wanted to read in a couple of sessions.  The strengths of the book lie in the simple yet descriptive writing, which contains many interesting and well-rounded characters and their struggles with their severe reality, of life and loss. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 19/01/2018 in Fiction


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The Luzhin Defense – Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov’s third novel, The Defense, is a chilling story of obsession and madness. As a young boy, Luzhin was unattractive, distracted, withdrawn, sullen–an enigma to his parents and an object of ridicule to his classmates. He takes up chess as a refuge from the anxiety of his everyday life. His talent is prodigious and he rises to the rank of grandmaster–but at a cost: in Luzhin’s obsessive mind, the game of chess gradually supplants the world of reality. His own world falls apart during a crucial championship match, when the intricate defense he has devised withers under his opponent’s unexpected and unpredictable lines of assault.

You would have thought he’d opt for a winnin’ defence!  Now that bad, not to mention obvious and cringeworthy joke is out of the way, I’ll leave the comedy and your tolerance in peace.

This being one of Nabakov’s earlier works, there are hints of the writer he would later become; with some wonderful prose in places, that demands the reader savour such lines appreciatively.

Like Stefan Zweig’s Chess, The Luzhin Defense is a fascinating leap into the mind (and abstract genius) of a grandmaster, with its sad but gripping descent into madness.  In this case we see the beginnings in his formative years, a lonely, tortured child unable to integrate with his peers and family who comes across the game and becomes seduced by the simplicity and more importantly the complexity of the it.

Luzhin is a closed, provocative character and very hard to like to begin with, although I softened up to him quickly, he is exhausting, uncommunicative, both annoying and likeable, and absurd.  Without this earlier connect to his childhood I probably would have become frustrated with the direction of the man over time and certainly a lot less sympathetic to him. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 14/12/2017 in Fiction


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