Book Review – NAKED: Stripped by a Man and Hurricane Katrina

“Nothing is sacred anymore when your underwear is hanging in your trees.”

NAKED: Stripped by a Man and Hurricane Katrina was selected as the 2014 Readers’ Favorites Best Memoir Bronze Medal winner, and nominated for the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters nonfiction award. I selected it for review from Book Club Reading List.

Synopsis

In the summer of 2005, Julie Freed’s life was torn completely apart. At the same time that her earthly possessions were decimated by Hurricane Katrina, her marriage imploded, leaving her to pick up the pieces of her life and to take care of her one-year-old daughter. NAKED is a true-life story of cataclysmic loss, but also of redemption and of birthing a new, better life from the ashes of the old.

Told with Maturity and Compassion

One thing I so appreciate about this memoir is how readable it is.  Freed, a self-proclaimed academic with virtually no creative writing background, displays a keen understanding of plot and story structure. It is non-fiction, yes, and reads as such; in other words, it does not feel unduly embellished for effect. But it also does not read like a diary or a series of loosely connected blog posts, but rather, finely crafted episodes that play out in a chronology that makes sense and also engages the reader’s interest. Freed’s memoir begins with the shocking revelation that her husband, to whom she thought she was happily married, either wants her to have copious amounts of sex with him, or he wants a divorce. Freed spends the next few chapters in an interesting flashback of sorts, showing how things got to that point, and then spends the remainder of the book showing how she managed to pick up the pieces of her life. By the end, it is easy to feel like you know Julie, you know her ex-husband–at least…you know enough–and if you don’t exactly sympathize with his life choices, you at least have a pretty good understanding of how he got to where he did.

What amazed me most about NAKED was the compassion with which Ms. Freed wrote about events and people that basically obliterated her life. Make no mistake, there was no excusing of past wrongs, no explaining away of bad choices–just as one cannot mitigate the damage of a hurricane simply by saying “Oh, well, that’s just what a hurricane does.” Rather, Freed showed a mature understanding and acceptance of her pain and her trouble. She took us into the thick of it, the raw of it, the actual digging around in the rubble of her former existence. And then she brought us out of it–not to be too cliche–not unlike a phoenix from the ashes.

I appreciated that Ms. Freed, for the most part, steered clear of the dangerous precipice of sentimentality. Maybe that is some readers’ cup of tea, but it is not mine. I like it when a memoirist draws a lesson out of their experience (why write the memoir, if not?) but there is a fine line between that and outright didacticism. My feeling was that NAKED stayed within parameters of the former while steering well clear of the latter.

“All our homes had been shattered to nothing. Our belongings scattered in our yards and into the Gulf. We had all been reduced to our naked selves. No one could hide behind their possessions, beautiful landscaping, home furnishing, and real estate. Katrina served as a tremendous normalizing event.”

 Conclusion

I went into NAKED knowing very little about the particulars of the story, and I think that was a good way to go in. I believe it is a memoir that would appeal to a wide variety of readers. From a purely human interest standpoint, it is a first-person account of surviving Hurricane Katrina, which should be reason enough to recommend it. For another thing, it is a story about something too many of us can relate to: divorce. The collapse of family life. The perpetuation of family dysfunctionality. But more importantly… NAKED highlights the strength of family and friends. Furthermore, it serves as a reminder not to assign too much value to stuff, but to hold fast to more enduring things, like education, sense of self, and the relationships that will carry us through any storm.

 


 
 
Published in: Book Review, Four Star, Nonfiction on July 23, 2016 at9:00 am Comments (0)
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An Interview with Author Julie Freed

JULIE FREED, PhD talks about her book NAKED: Stripped by a Man and Hurricane Katrina, which was selected as the 2014 Readers’ Favorites Best Memoir Bronze Medal winner, and nominated for the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters nonfiction award. I selected it for review from Book Club Reading List.

What inspired you to write this story?

Initially, I wrote to get the memories out of my head. Replaying conversations – “I should have said…” “I can’t believe he…” The initial writing was a great purging. I had hoped it would be healing, allowing me to live more in the moment without distractions from my immediate past. My daughter needed my attention and I wanted to be able to give that to her fully. When I completed a first draft I was actually surprised at the product – it was almost a little poetic. I found myself enjoying the writing process beyond the mental health exercise intended. I had never before viewed my writing as “creative.” I always wrote in a technical, organized, concise style for an academic audience only. I’ve always loved reading memoirs but I’d not intended to write for a public audience. However, what appeared late nights at the keyboard with wine or tea in hand – needed to be shared. The feedback on my manuscript from family and friends was shocking. Some were authors, college and university English professors, others just heavy readers. Bottom line, I respected their opinions and encouragement. I decided to dedicate some time to the manuscript between life, job, single motherhood, and prepare the work for publication.

Which aspect of the story did you find most difficult to write? How did you overcome it?

During the years I was writing and editing the book my mother passed away. She was a breast cancer survivor for twenty years but then cancer crept its vicious way into her lungs and spine. Reliving and crafting the already emotional scenes and conversations with her were excruciating after her death. Much of my story is built upon the relationships with my parents. There was no easy way to overcome that obstacle and I doubt I’ll ever find one. I am a motherless daughter, that pain is part of me. But she had read an early draft of Naked and I knew she would want me to complete the book. She was with me when I wrote … as were the tears on my keyboard.

When writing such a personal story how do you decide what to share and what to omit?

The title NAKED is metaphor for being authentic, being vulnerable, being alive. Both the title and cover image capture being naked in several ways. My story is quite intimate and personal. Even close friends said, “There were times when I felt I shouldn’t be reading it, but I couldn’t stop!” Divorce brings with it such a feeling of exposure. It is a public failure and I felt like I was wearing the letter “D” on my chest. But when reader after reader thanks me for writing my story – because it validated their feelings or helped them with issues in their relationship – I don’t feel naked, I feel embraced. However, deciding how much to tell is not a trivial task. When writing I always suggest writers tell it all at first. Messages and patterns will appear as thoughts and scenes become organized. Later, when editing and perhaps restructuring those hard decisions can be tackled. But the question to ask always is, “What will the reader gain from this excerpt?” A writer’s vulnerability becomes a gift to the reader. But deciding how far to go is an individual choice based on a multitude of factors.

Tell us about your journey to becoming an author. Where have you found the most success or difficulties?

As a mathematician I’ve always looked for patterns and relationships. I do this naturally. So my writing tends to weave those patterns. I write every day in my work but not necessarily in what most would consider a creative fashion. In crafting this memoir, I wrote a bit, thought a bit, cried a lot, edited, read out loud to capture pace, would recall conversations, plug in a related scene. It was like a puzzle assembling the pieces to make it intriguing and most important I hoped to make it meaningful. I most enjoy a read that makes a difference in the way I think or feel – one that resonates. Time is my commodity. I want what I read to be important for my own trajectory. And I wanted to give the same care and respect to readers of my story. To your second question, the most success I’ve experienced has definitely come from readers’ words. People from all over the world connect and share their own stories of survival or struggle with me. They find themselves in Naked. Touching people like this was completely unexpected. Tears a reader cried because it was her story too. Another empowered to change her marriage. A mother reminisced about delicious babies. The connecting – that has been the ultimate gift. I have touched others I will likely never meet and vice versa. This to me is success, and what being human is all about, connecting through our stories and learning from one another.

Are you working on another book? If so, can you tell us about it?

Originally I didn’t have any plans to write more books after Naked. But since publication and the feedback from writers and readers I respect – I’ve started sketching my next memoir. I’m currently playing with structure right now and deciding how to organize several episodes. It’s a fun and challenging hobby, one that I was lucky enough to discover in the rubble! Thank you Erin for hosting me on your page. I hope your followers enjoy.

 

And Julie, thank YOU for allowing us this precious glimpse into your writing process! If you’d like to learn more about Julie Freed, visit her website here.

 
 

 

Published in: Author Interview on July 3, 2016 at11:00 am Comments (0)
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Now Reading… NAKED: Stripped by a Man and Hurricane Katrina, by Julie Freed

NAKED: Stripped by a Man and Hurricane Katrina, a memoir by Julie Freed, was selected for review from Book Club Reading List, and is available for purchase on Amazon.

One woman, one storm – An incredible true tale of motherhood and survival emerge from the rubble. Dr. Julie Freed loses her house and possessions, and must protect her one year old daughter Genoa from Hurricane Katrina’s wrath and aftermath. Hauntingly powerful prose weaves two narratives bringing the reader through the eye of the storm and the almost simultaneous collapse of her marriage. Few writers can make you feel their emotions portrayed in words. Naked is a story of loss, redemption, and renewal that both inspires and motivates. Freed’s unflinchingly honest memoir shows us all that true strength and power can derive from the lowest of places.

Why I chose NAKED: Stripped by a Man and Hurricane Katrina

I like to read fiction, primarily, both for review and just for fun, but I sprinkle a handful of non-fiction in there every year. I am a big fan of History and Biography, but I don’t read a lot of memoirs, maybe because sometimes they seem a little… I don’t know… self-indulgent. I have read a few by certain celebrities that are entertaining and sort of self-deprecating enough whose books don’t feel like too much of a celebration of their own awesomeness, but I haven’t read too many memoirs by regular folks who just feel like they have an important story to tell. So. With that, I decided to give this one a try. NAKED: Stripped by a Man and Hurricane Katrina caught my interest because Katrina was such a massive disaster (in many senses of the word), the effects of which we are still seeing over a decade later. I am also interested to see how Ms. Freed’s personal story ties into the disaster at large. It also garnered some positive feedback from critics and other reviewers, which helps me feel confident going in, as a reader. If you’d like to read along, please pick up a copy from Amazon!

 
 
Published in: Cover Reveal, Nonfiction on June 20, 2016 at11:00 am Comments (0)
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Book Review: Face of Our Father

The world contains over 1.6 billion Muslims and over two billion Christians. These two cultures are clashing. Good people on both sides are dying.

 

-from the “About the Author” section of Face of Our Father

FACE OF OUR FATHER, by G. Egore Pitir, was a 2015 Best Indie Book Award winner, and a 2016 eLit Book Award Bronze Medal winner for Popular Fiction. I selected it for review from Book Club Reading List. To read an interview with the author, click here.

Synopsis

It seems like the more Stuart Pierce tries to break into his secretive wife’s private world, the more she shuts him out. Angela Pierce, a high-powered attorney who has taken on child sex-trafficking cases in the Middle East, has spent the last decade caving further and further into herself as she throws herself into her work. To add to the Pierces’ stress, a malicious hacker and child molester named “Sala” has launched several cyber attacks and sent death threats to Angie if she continues to work the cases. She makes a promise to Stu, for her sake and for his, that she will not pursue them anymore. One day, however, Stu unwittingly stumbles upon something that leads him to believe his wife has broken this promise and that she may be in over her head. Now he has to figure out whether to confront her or to help her take down this “Sala.” One decision could end their marriage. The other could end their lives.

A photograph lay facedown on her stomach. One hand held a rosary, the other, Tales of the Arabian Nights–the twin pillars of her childhood. Stress often drove a person back in time, and Angie was no different. But few found solace mixing east with west. And only Angie saw no contradiction in clutching to both “veil” and “habit.” Only Angie seemed able to see the sameness of Middle Eastern woman and Catholic nun.

Wow. Let me just start out by saying that I have never read a book quite like this–and I mean that in a good way! I’ve never really gotten into thrillers because they all seem so formulaic. (And maybe I haven’t given them a fair shake, but that’s a different discussion.) Mr. Pitir, however, has made a big deal about his book being a “genre-bender” in that you cannot neatly categorize it as one thing or another. Is it a family drama? Or is it a thriller? The answer is yes. And there are probably a few other genres you could argue it into as well. First, and foremost, it’s a deep look at a marriage in trouble. A marriage with deep roots–but a marriage in trouble nonetheless. Stu has given Angie all of himself emotionally and physically over the course of their marriage, but Angie stopped reciprocating at some point and Stu needs to figure out why. The first half or so of the book is very much an introspective, relatively slow-paced exploration of these tensions. Stu is wound tight as clock though, and it’s only a matter of time before something gives.

We also, interestingly enough, get to follow the story of a young muslim jihadist, named Kashif, who goes to America on his first major mission. He doesn’t see himself as a terrorist, but as a devoted follower of Allah, and a son avenging his mother, killed by the Americans and listed as “collateral damage.” His hatred burns deep, but we see him go on an emotional journey as well as he learns to let Love govern his decisions rather than Hate.

The two stories seem utterly disconnected, but they eventually collide in a spectacular, and decidedly thrilling, climax. (Psst! This is where the thriller part of the story comes in!)

This is a very ambitious novel–in scope, in subject matter, in everything–and I admire the author for accepting the challenge of writing it. From a purely mechanical standpoint, it’s just a well-crafted book. You could argue that the pacing seems a little inconsistent–going from almost painfully introspective to cyber-thriller to full bore action in the space of a few pages–but I didn’t personally find it to be distracting. I felt like I understood the author’s intent with the story–part of which was to defy any attempt to make it just a thriller or just a drama–and it followed the basic plot structure that we readers need to stay grounded in the story. A book like this could have been painfully self-conscious about its self-professed “genre-bending,” but it flowed quite naturally, and focuses more on story than form–as it should. I enjoyed the wry narrative voice as well as the authentic attention to detail. His respectful but unflinching representation of violence wrought in the name of religion or personal gain was hard to read but, I felt, necessary in order to fully understand what was at stake.

In conclusion, I think FACE OF OUR FATHER, is not only a huge victory for indie publishing but for storytelling in general. I’m pleased to have come across it, and feel like I can recommend it without any caveats. I don’t know all of the things that inspired Mr. Pitir to write this story, but I’m glad he was bold enough to do so and humble enough to accept the time and energy to polish and edit it into what it is now. If you get the chance, definitely give it a read.


 
 

An Interview with Author G. Egore Pitir

image1-300x400G. EGORE PITIR talks about his novel FACE OF OUR FATHER, which was a 2015 Best Indie Book Award winner. I selected it for review from Book Club Reading List.

What inspired you to write this story?

911, or more accurately, the aftermath of 911…the mistakes we’ve made…the mistakes we continue to make. Western culture’s missteps over the past fifteen years have created a generation of Middle-eastern jihadists. I don’t want us to create another. What do we do from this point? Just keep killing them, creating another million in the process, another million to kill, and then another, and another? But some of those millions are innocents. Collateral damage we call them, a polite euphemism for those noncombatants who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I wanted to put a human face on that collateral damage. Yet, I also wanted to validate the cultural divide, highlight those elements that are not merely quaint cultural differences, but true barriers to human progress. A burqa is not something to fear. It is a piece of cloth. But, as my Angie character asks “Where was the common ground? What words sufficed when a woman’s punishment for learning to read is acid in the eyes.” This is not a simple cultural barrier, but a horror, a crime against humanity whose victims must always and forever receive justice. One of my readers said they enjoyed my novel because I poked an accusing finger in nearly everyone’s eye. I suppose that’s somewhat true. Plenty of blame to share. Edmund Burke wrote “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” A sentiment that stirs my soul. But, when good men elect to do something, they should be careful lest they become the greater evil. Like any other philanthropic endeavor, in doing something, the devil lies in the details.

Which aspect of the story did you find most difficult to write? How did you overcome it?

The naked, unapologetic violence. Especially those acts contemplated and performed by my Hosaam character. I write from five character’s perspectives. In placing Hosaam’s perspective onto the pages I must live in his head for a time, a malevolent, dark, twisted place that leaves me spent and hopeless. I overcame the difficulty by writing only three chapters from Hosaam’s perspective. Fortunately, I found those three chapters carried such weight that his mere presence in other chapters leant gravitas. Whenever I’ve asked a reader how many chapters I wrote from Hosaam’s perspective, the answer always comes in at least double the amount. I know it’s a cliche for writers, but I also ended a day of Hosaam writing with a goodly helping of alcohol, usually single malt scotch.

Was there research required for your story? If so, how did you go about researching? What tips would you give to other authors writing a similar story?

Yes. Years really. Studying the Qur’an, Middle-eastern history, current world politics, to name just a few topics, takes a lot of time. And I still feel so inadequate to the task. But at some point you just have to write the story, or the characters will drive you mad. Stu, Angie, Kashif were all so alive in my head, demanding their story be told. So, I did. Yet, the scenes I’m most proud of are those I understood least when I started my research. But, before I undertook the writing of such scenes as the the Islamic prayer scene in the Afghan mountains, I could literally perform the entire ritual in my study. And did, numerous times, before I wrote that scene. I think that when you undertake to write a character from a foreign culture, you owe that culture your best effort. I did my best. Every writer should do their very best to research before putting fingers to keyboard.

Tell us about your journey to becoming an author. Where have you found the most success or difficulties?

The most success comes from the journey. Every great story ever written was a journey of self-discovery, I think. And the journey will cost you. The price is your preconceived notions, your prejudices, your self-image. All are at risk if you want to write a truth. Often, when you get that infamous writer’s block, it’s because you’re holding on to something that isn’t true, and what you need to write will destroy that untruth. My advice is go ahead. Destroy it. Crush it. Obliteration of your self-told lies will set you on the path to freedom. Embrace that path. The most difficulty is marketing. Oh, how I loathe thee.

Are you working on another book? If so, can you tell us about it?

Yes, I’m writing FACE OF OUR MOTHER, the sequel to FACE OF OUR FATHER. On the surface, FACE OF OUR FATHER is a political thriller, a West versus Middle East current-events saga of clashing cultures. But at its core, it is an intricate love story, a vexing account of one couple’s conflicting devotions—the man forced to choose between love and honor, the woman between love and justice. And although the end of the first novel concludes with the power of love’s devotion thwarting evil, that doesn’t mean that evil will rest. No, the devil never forgives, and never forgets.

 
 
Published in: Author Interview on April 15, 2016 at9:00 am Comments (0)
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Next up… Face of Our Father by G. Egore Pitir

FACE OF OUR FATHER, by G. Egore Pitir, was selected for review from Book Club Reading List and is available for purchase from Amazon.

Stuart and Angela Pierce, recent empty nesters, are busy reinventing themselves. Having flown every aircraft from fighters to airliners, Stu has done quite enough flying for one lifetime and pares his airline schedule to train for triathlons. Angie retires early from her horror-a-day prosecutor’s job to pursue pro bono work, devoting herself to international child custody cases. But the serene existence Stu envisioned is soon disturbed when Angie receives a death threat—a threat she attempts to hide from Stu. With a photograph of a lifeless, bloodied young woman his only tangible clue, Stu sets out to protect a wife who’s chasing a murdering rapist. Angie’s pursuit plunges them both into a quagmire of global intrigue where every cultural truth they hold dear seemingly becomes just another well-told lie. In the end, Stu and Angie discover that the worst lies are not the lies the world tells us, but the lies we tell ourselves, and with every lie exposed, the Pierces find that the only truths that really matter are love and devotion.

Why I chose Face of Our Father

From what I can tell, Face of Our Father seems like a well-written mystery/thriller with a little bit of emotional depth to it. My experience with thrillers is limited, so I’m excited to see how I like this one. This book was also a 2015 Best Indie Book Award winner. If you’d like to read along, you can purchase a copy through Amazon by clicking the cover image above.

 
 
Published in: Cover Reveal, Thriller on April 11, 2016 at9:00 am Comments (0)
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Review: Blue Magic Woman

She really was a gift from You. She taught me to look at clouds from both sides, taught me to find music where I never heard music before.

The story begins in Sweden between the railroad tracks, where Michael sits hoping to be run over by a train. Saved at the last minute by the Swedish police, Michael is taken to an arctic asylum, where his past begins to blend confusingly with his present…  BLUE MAGIC WOMAN, by James van Loon and Paola Bartolotti, was selected for review from Cheap Kindle Books and is available for purchase from Amazon.

Synopsis

Uppsala, Sweden By: Paulius Malinovskis

Michael is a young student from Denver, an artist with a desire “to sink his teeth into life.” The murder of his uncle, a monk, compels him to travel to a monastery in the Bavarian Alps in order to investigate, but also, in part, to seek spiritual enlightenment. Michael’s difficulty in leaving the outside world, combined with strife within the actual walls of the monastery, make it hard for him to find peace there, until he meets a beautiful local girl named Mary. Michael and Mary begin an intimate relationship, which she helps him rationalize by declaring that she is a gift from God. Mary claims to be God’s way of helping Michael cope with the loss of his old life and that she is a channel of God’s love for him. Michael, however, begins to suspect that something might be wrong with him when Mary begins openly following him about the monastery unseen by any but him. Worse, several murders have happened, and he believes he may be implicated… Blue Magic Woman is a journey into art, travel, spirituality, and insanity. It is the story of a young artist’s quest for love.

“Michael, you seem to meet a lot of kamikaze women. They dive right into you and destroy you.”

Blue Magic Woman is a highly psychological novel whose very form seems to take on the main character’s psychosis. Almost the entire narrative takes place in the present tense, and revelations occur for the reader and for Michael simultaneously. We are just as perplexed about Mary’s presence in the monastery as Michael is, just as shocked that she would so brazenly enter his private rooms and seemingly take advantage of his youth and restlessness to seduce him from his vows of celibacy. Mary herself is the most powerful iteration of a recurring theme throughout the book–that of a “blue magic woman”–and personifies Michael’s endless quest for love: both from Woman and from God. Mary, who in psychological terms is no more than a schizophrenic hallucination, embodies both kinds of love, conflates them. Almost without exception, all of Michael’s other relationships with women are dysfunctional. Two are patients with him in the arctic asylum, one is much older than he is, and one even tricks him into sleeping with a close relative. Only Mary, the “blue magic woman” in the Bavarian monastery–the hallucination–is the paradigm. The story does end on a hopeful note, but it is a long, hard struggle for Michael, whose grasp on reality is tenuous at best.

Bavarian Monastery By: Bernt Rostad

One of the biggest challenges for any novelist is to figure out how to tell the story they need to tell. The story exists in its entirety in the mind of the author before it is given form, before it is translated into words and chapters and made accessible to others.  My main criticism of Blue Magic Woman is that it feels like an interesting story constantly being told from the wrong angle. For one, present tense was, in my opinion, is a bad choice for such a slow, introspective story. In a fast-paced, action-filled story, present-tense can sometimes work, as it gives the readers a sense of immediacy and the thrill of not knowing that it all will work out. In this case though, it slowed an already thoughtful-paced narrative way down and made me feel like there was no light at the end of the tunnel of Michael’s story. I wished at the very least that the flashbacks had been in past tense. Alas, no. The Past was as much in the present as the Present. I can see how this might have been an intentional blending of Michael’s Past and Present (something that does actually happen in the story) but in practice it made for slow reading.

A particular frustration of mine was that, in spite of the story being in the present tense, important events were constantly being told in retrospect. Michael was supposedly involved in a murder–a point central to the entire book–but we don’t see it happen, don’t understand the important details, and do not see how, or even if, Michael is actually involved. The murder scene would have been the real place for present tense to shine, but it was an opportunity lost.

A storm has once again fermented over the sky, and the black afternoon explodes.

Marrakech By: Andy Wright

Blue Magic Woman is a book filled with opulent descriptions of various places around the world. From the Bavarian Alps to Uppsala, Sweden to Marrakech, Morocco, all of these places come to life on the pages of the book with such color, such reality as to almost take one’s breath away. There seems to be little doubt that the author(s) are in some way personally acquainted with these places to be able to describe them with such care and detail. The same level of care is evident in their frequent and often pithy observations about human nature and man’s relationship with God. Blue Magic Woman truly is an extension of the deep thinking and rich experiences of one or both authors, a precious glimpse into a mature psyche.

However, I return to my point that the hardest thing in writing a story is the actual writing of the story, giving it form, choosing how to tell it, and in several important ways, Blue Magic Woman simply didn’t pass muster for me. I do not demand that a book be fast-paced, but there came many points at which I simply became bored with lengthy, indulgent descriptions and found myself unable to read for long stretches. For me, story in any book is paramount, and in spite of the overall good writing, I just didn’t find Michael’s narrative arc to be very interesting. From a purely objective standpoint, there is nothing egregiously wrong with Michael’s story: As a character, he does go on a journey; he does learn and grow. But it just didn’t pull me along as I’d like, and it took some effort for me to finish.

A final note, in talking about the form of a story, is a small but important critique: the formatting at least of the ebook version was incredibly difficult to read. Paragraph blended into paragraph with almost no break at all, and very little indentation. It read almost like stream-of-consciousness, making an already slow story just that much slower.

I can’t be God’s monk, but I am a writer and a painter …maybe I can express more love by living, writing and painting than dying.

Conclusion

Blue Magic Woman is not what I expected. I suppose I simply wanted more to happen–and in fewer pages. I enjoyed much of the thoughtful commentary about art and spiritualism and sanity/insanity. Michael’s internal monologue is interesting and sometimes even humorous, as evidenced by this quote:

I can see why the Benedictines don’t believe in cremation, as with all the alcohol the abbot has in his body he would explode.

(I would have liked it if the book were written entirely in his voice.) It is obvious that the authors are highly-intelligent, well-read and probably well-traveled. But the story itself left me largely unmoved. The plot felt a little clumsy, the characterizations a little general. That being said, I do think this might be an interesting read for those who like slow-paced, lyrical writing. There are some genuinely inspirational moments. But if you’re expecting anything akin to a psychological thriller, you might be disappointed.

 


 
 

An Interview with Author James van Loon

3d4a4fdJAMES VAN LOON talks about his novel Blue Magic Woman, which was selected for review from the Cheap Kindle Books reading list.

What inspired you to write this story?

I created two characters and put them together and their interaction created the story. I had no idea from the beginning that this story would become a Nordic Noir novel.

Which aspect of the story did you find most difficult to write? How did you overcome it?

Getting into the mind of a killer is painful and disturbing, but by understanding the motives of this character makes it easier.

Was there research required for your story? If so, how did you go about researching? What tips would you give to other authors writing a similar story?

I researched the different locations as interviewing monks at a monastery and spending time in the different locations as the mental asylum. My background as a clinical psychologist helped me write this story. My advice to writers is to use the background knowledge they have.

Tell us about your journey to becoming an author. Where have you found the most success or difficulties?

I feel my contact with other writers has been very important for me, and also to read the writers that one likes.

Are you working on another book? If so, can you tell us about it?

Yes, I am working on another novel. I am using the themes of eroticism and mysticism, and my new characters are developing the story as it happened with my other novels.

Thank you James! If you’d like to read Blue Magic Woman with me, please click the cover image below.

 
 
Published in: Author Interview on February 24, 2016 at5:23 pm Comments (0)
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Coming up… Blue Magic Woman by James van Loon/Paola Bartolotti

BLUE MAGIC WOMAN, by James van Loon and Paola Bartolotti, was selected for review from Cheap Kindle Books and is available for purchase from Amazon.

Blue Magic Woman, a Nordic Noir novel, begins with the protagonist, Michael, sitting between the rails with a train blasting towards him until the Swedish police site him and drag him off the rails, and after a struggle drive him to an arctic asylum. He is on the run from the Bavarian Alps, where he is enmeshed in three murders: a monk, a postulate in the alpine Abbey, and a local village girl. Michael believes he has locked the ward from the inside, and hopes the asylum will be a refuge, but he experiences a mad world, sometimes a dark comedy, a crazy cuckoo’s nest with erotic elements, and a strong female character, the blue magic woman. But her prowess extends far beyond her sexual allure, and Michael commences to question even his precarious grip on reality. This is a book of madness, wonder, and a thriller; a psychological Nordic Noir merged with the lurid, the lovely, the lost.

Why I chose Blue Magic Woman

Nordic Noir is a new genre for me, and not one I’m terribly familiar with. Like most people, however, I am familiar with Stieg Larsson’s work (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.) so I kind of have a feel for the tone. To be honest, I was a little reluctant to read this one because I’m not into hyper-violent or sexually graphic literature, but the story looked intriguing and… I’ll be honest: I totally judge a book by it’s cover. Taras Loboda’s “Blue Portrait,” is so beautiful, so evocative. I like to reward a nice choice of book cover with my attention (although it certainly isn’t my only, or most important, criterion.)

 
 
Published in: Contemporary, Cover Reveal on February 16, 2016 at6:07 pm Comments (0)
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Review: Demon Dance

DEMON DANCE, by Brian Freyermuth, is Book One of the “Sundancer” series, and was selected from Book Club Reading List.

Synopsis

Nick St. James moved to Seattle five years ago to escape his demons, to write his books, and to be left alone. But now, Nick’s past is catching up to him–and an actual demon has it out for him. As Nick uses his special talents to fight the demon over and over again, he discovers that the real target of his unknown enemy is a woman and her little girl who may have ties to a certain Senator. Meanwhile, in a seemingly unrelated gig, Nick finds himself embroiled in the case of a rogue demon, and gets roped into assisting both Heaven and Hell track down this demon. (They just won’t leave him alone!) In this urban fantasy thriller, Nick enlists the help of a hacker, a goddess, a houngan–and even, indirectly, a dragon–to track down the demon’s summoner and end it once and for all.

“I’ve seen things you couldn’t even imagine. Ghosts, legends come to life, demons, and angels. But I don’t have faith in any of it. Life is all chance, and it’s just our job to muddle through it.” –Nick St. James

Seattle: Making the Most of Setting

Fremont Troll By: City of Seattle

One of the most important elements in a work of urban fantasy is, obviously, the setting. While (to my great shame and horror) I have never actually been to Seattle, the city strikes me as a particularly ripe setting for stories like Demon Dance. If what I hear is correct, the sun rarely, if ever, makes an appearance in that region, making it the perfect place for vampires, demons, and other sun-averse creatures to roam. Besides that, the gloomy forecast is a perfect mood setter. I don’t know about you, but I want to feel a little hopeless when reading stories like this; I want to feel, if just for a moment, that all is lost–and nothing makes me feel worse about the prospects of my day than rain. (Seriously. Screw rain. Maybe Seattle isn’t for me after all.) Seattle itself also has some unique landmarks that are featured in Demon Dance, such as the Fremont Troll sculpture, which makes an important appearance. In his inky descriptions of forested, mansion-covered islands, decaying, tucked-away public libraries, shabby-chic coffee houses, and art galleries, Freyermuth evokes a Seattle that I feel I know.

Angels and Demon By: Ail Lee

The Mythology of Heaven, Hell and Free Will

An important fact in Freyermuth’s fictional world is that the powers of both Heaven and Hell are subject to the power of human free will. It’s a concept I found interesting: that all the powers of heaven and hell, great though they may be, will not and cannot stop the human from making a choice. The eponymous demon, an eyeless “captain  of hell” named Shabriri, is a nasty killing machine whose abilities would suggest omnipotence, however, the demon is only present because it was summoned by a human and is subject to the human’s will. One would think that Heaven would send angels to intervene whenever a demon is summoned, but–again–not so, out of respect for the choice of the person who summoned the demon in the first place. I always enjoy the subject of Free Will as a theme in a book, and I liked the way it was incorporated in the world of Demon Dance. Shabriri, the demon, was an effectively terrifying personification of the antagonist’s choice to be evil, and a worthy opponent to the main character, Nick.

… [I]t’s up to you, Nick. You might feel like a pawn in this war of the Ancients, but remember that even a pawn can checkmate the king.” –Fay, Norse goddess/librarian

Plot: Breadcrumbs and Balance

Another strength of Demon Dance is that the incredible amount of foreshadowing that goes on without actually giving anything away. There were a few “ah ha!” moments for me that were simply masterful. I actually wondered why I didn’t see it coming, with a few of them. I could blame it on lack of attention on my part, but I’m just going to go ahead and give the credit where it is due: to the author. It is a difficult balance to give enough breadcrumbs to keep the reader curious without giving away too much too soon, and, for me at least, Freyermuth achieved that balance to perfection with many instances. The only thing I found a little frustrating while reading was references to certain events that had happened in Nick’s past, where the details were given so infrequently and so sparsely that by the end of the book I still wasn’t exactly sure what had happened in Boston (the scene of a pivotal event in Nick’s past) and how it tied to the facts of the present. I understand and appreciate the value of non-linear storytelling, but in this instance, I found some of the plot a little hard to follow and actually had to go back and re-read certain sections in order to get a complete picture.

Conclusion

DEMON DANCE was an incredibly enjoyable read that moved at an appropriately fast-pace. By and large, it avoided cliche while still pulling from the rich mythology of heaven and hell, and the tenets of the urban fantasy genre. While some plot points were somewhat hard for me to suss out, overall the story played out gracefully and unpredictably. I found Nick St. James, the hard-boiled but endearing protagonist, to be enshrouded in enough mystery still to make me want to pick up the other books in the Sundancer series, and I would definitely recommend Demon Dance to lovers of the genre.

 


 
 
Published in: Book Review, Fantasy, Four Star on February 5, 2016 at9:00 am Comments (0)
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