Tuesday, September 27, 2022

So Close Yet So Far: John F Duffy


I've always been curious to know who authors get star struck over, and whether they've brushed shoulders with the people they most admire. So...we're starting a cool new author series in which they get to share their sixe degrees of separation or close calls with celebrities/authors/musicians.... 


Our debut post comes from John F Duffy: 




So Close Yet So Far

 



I have actually met a lot of celebrities, oddly enough. Most of these interactions occurred at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX where I was a waiter for almost four years. I worked at the primary location on South Lamar where the company hosted multiple film festivals every year, so in that time I saw or met a good number of famous people. Elijah Wood was also friends with one of the head managers of the company, so he was around all the time. 

 

The celebrities that stand out the most in my mind are Cate Blanchett, who came one random night to watch a film with her mother. Both of them were just striking. I mean, Cate is just gorgeous, and she was very polite. Sam Rockwell was watching a movie with his friends one afternoon, and afterwards I was cleaning up after them, just clearing dishes and such, and he struck up a conversation with me, basically asking how my day was going. He seemed like a very nice man. I waited on Winona Ryder during a film premiere, and she is TINY. But she was also very kind and polite. I could go on at length about these brief run-ins, and honestly have forgotten most of them. Also, back then, Austin drew in a lot of Hollywood types who were looking to hang out in a place that wasn't L.A. One night at a bar, Woody Harrelson, Owen Wilson, and Jemaine Clement were all hanging out. My wife took a picture with Jemaine, because she and I had gone as The Flight of the Conchords for Halloween, and she had dressed up as him. I think he is the only person we ever bothered for a photo. 

 

The people I have been the most excited to meet have always been from my niche interests though. I've met indie rock musicians and professional skateboarders whose names most people wouldn't recognize but who definitely had me more jazzed up than say, Danny DeVito or Rosario Dawson or Robert Rodriguez, who also came through the Alamo. I have a friend from Jiu Jitsu who is a total genius, and he spent a year at the Santa Fe Institute where he had the good fortune of being in close proximity with Cormac McCarthy. As a writer, that to me would be way cooler than meeting movie actors.


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Originally from Chicago, John F Duffy is a writer who currently lives just outside of Bloomington, Indiana. His short fiction has appeared in Fly Over Country Lit, The Jupiter Review, Terror House Magazine, and Cutleaf Literary. In 2022, his podcast series, "After the Uprising" was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. Duffy's debut novel, "A Ballroom for Ghost Dancing," is available now, wherever books are sold.


Monday, September 12, 2022

Top Five: Fiction Novels to Inspire Wanderlust

 




Top Five Fiction Novels to Inspire Wanderlust





I travel like crazy, not only within my country (India) but also any chance I get to go abroad. However, unlike most others, who carry guidebooks or scour the internet to study a country, I prefer to read mystery fiction or suspense fiction set in the country. Better if it’s a translated work of fiction, because such a book helps to understand the country better, to understand its genesis, its people, its cultural nuances. Travel themed fiction keeps me interested and gives me a unique perspective from a local author’s point of view.

I’ve found a few gems through the years. I list below my favourite countries and the treasured fiction novels I took there. Maybe the list will motivate you to visit, too.

I hope you enjoy my list of top five fiction books to carry while traveling to these countries.


Italy: The Neapolitan Novels 

Italy is worth every bit of the travel hype. I’ve traveled to all corners of Italy and Naples and the Amalfi Coast remain my favorite regions. In summer, the sight of Sorrento lemons, the sparkling beaches, the quaint colourful homes, and the feel of gelato on my tongue are experiences I cherish and fondly remember.

Elena Ferrante's four-book Neapolitan series, originally published in Italian, and translated into many languages, brings Italy, and especially Naples, alive for the reader. The book is a portrait of the coming of age of two girls and a meditation on friendship itself. The first book of the series, My Brilliant Friend, is now also an HBO series.


Turkey: Birds without Wings

Birds Without Wings is a novel by Louis de Bernières, written in 2004. I picked this book up with no real expectations before my trip to Turkey, and it turned out to be a fascinating read. The story is essentially about the Greek-Turkish exodus (1964-65) and the rise of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the ‘Father of the Turkish Nation’ to build modern Turkey. I’d never heard of the book before, but I now count it amongst my top travel themed fiction. 


Japan: Out

Out, penned by the talented and underrated author Natuso Kirono, is a mystery suspense masterpiece set in a staid Tokyo suburb. It tells the tale of what happens after a young mother who works a night shift making boxed lunches brutally strangles her deadbeat husband and then seeks the help of her co-workers to dispose of the body and cover up her crime. Phew! What a premise, isn't it? I found the book and all its characters fascinating. My heart was in my mouth the entire time I read it, burning the midnight oil, wondering each second if now the women were going to be outed. A gory page turner if ever there was one.


Iceland: Jar City

I list Iceland among the top countries I’ve visited. I was lucky to go in the summer. And, let me tell you, you’ll be hard pressed to see landscapes that gorgeous. There was a jaw-hanging change in scenery every few minutes. Jar City, featuring the enigmatic Inspector Erlendur, is a typical Nordic noir murder mystery set in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík. It has everything that makes Nordic noir novels great: atmosphere building, great pacing, a detective you can root for, and a unique mystery in the biting cold.


India: Kiss of Salt

Kiss of Salt introduces Darya Nandkarni, an amateur and accidental detective, in the beachside state of Goa, India. Darya is clever, spirited, resourceful, yet troubled and vulnerable. Her adventures will make you laugh, cry, gape, and marvel, and you won’t be able to put down the book until you’ve solved the mystery along with her on the beautiful side-streets of Goa. I’d written this book during one of my many holidays in the gorgeous Indian beach state of Goa (where I now live half the year). Pick up the series if you want a taste of a spunky heroine in exotic locations.



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SMITA BHATTACHARYA
writes atmospheric cosy and psychological mystery fiction. She is also a management consultant, coffee lover, and gipsy-in-her-head. She lives in Mumbai but has solo travelled to 42 countries and thus, her stories are heavily inspired by her travels and by those she meets. Smita has six published books and counting. Her latest, Shut the Lights, released in August. She has worked in a vineyard, in a newsroom, in a school, in a library, in a bank, in an audit firm. She has too many stories to tell and not enough time. You can read her colourful travel and life stories at www.smitabhattacharya.com.


Saturday, September 3, 2022

What I Read in August

 So the summer is quickly coming to an end and many of the people I follow on social are in complete and total FALL mode. I'm not sure how time just keeps flying by me like this... and I'm not quite ready to accept that cooler weather is moving in...

New month, new bookish recap. 

How many books did you read in August? Was it a good reading month for you? I ended up testing positive with Covid during the month. While I felt like dog doo, it was the best thing that happened to my TBR in a long time. I read SO MANY books! 9 books in one month has to be some kind of record for me!!

In case you were curious, here's a peek at what I read and reviewed last month!



Garden of Earthly Bodies by Sally Oliver


I think my expectations were too high going into this one. The title and cover immediately drew me in, and it sounded like just my kind of weird. Only... it didn't live up to the anticipated strangeness as much as I had hoped.


The book focuses on Marianne, a woman who is deeply grieving the loss of her sister, and who has noticed an odd growth of thick black hairs down her spine. Her doctor informs her that bodies do bizarre things when under a great deal of stress and recommends that she consider signing up to spend a month at an isolated retreat called Nede. Marianne, in an effort to escape her depression and lackluster relationship with her boyfriend, decides to take the plunge. A month of being pampered and engaging in stress-reducing activies is too hard to pass up. But once inside the grounds, Marianne realizes she might have made a grave (snicker snicker) mistake.

Ok, so the weird hairs appear right at the beginning of the book and but almost immediately take a backseat for a while as Oliver spends an exorbiant amount of time building Marianne's backstory with both her sister and her fiance. About midway through we finally get to Nede, the getaway-slash-research facility, but try not to get too excited because we spend more time in Marianne's backstory again than we do in her present situation. And then BOOM, we find ourselves rushing headlong into the end of the book, where the really weird shit finally hits but we're unprepared and not entirely sure what is happening or why... and then it's over. Done. No more pages. And we're left slightly unsatisfied.

Regardless of my issues with the pacing and holes in the plot, Garden of Earthly Bodies is quite a powerful exploration of grief and trauma and how it wears down the body, not just mentally but physically. If you prefer books that focus on the internal instead of external, this might be just the thing for you.





Newborn by Agustin Maes (Whiskey Tit Books)


Why are more of you not reading this book?!?!?!?! I am going to be doing publicity for this one in October, so I haven't formally reviewed it, but omg it's so dark and sad and also soooo friggen well written. You're going to want to get this one on your radar. 






White Horse by Erika T Wurth

This book has it all. Dark Native American lore. A family heirloom with unique powers. And a metalhead, shot-slinging, aint-taking-no-shit-from-no-man badass leading lady who finds herself suddenly haunted by horrible nightmares and a ghost who's got a story it needs to tell.

Like most people, Kari's got some emotional scars that just refuse to heal. Her mom ran off and left her when she was two years old. Her dad had a bad car accident shortly after that left him brain damaged. And her BFF died of an overdose when they were in their teens. In an effort to dull the pain and repress the memories, Kari keeps her mind busy with alcohol and smokes, and hanging with her cousin Debby at the White Horse, a bar she intents to purchase from its aging owner Nick.

That is, until Debby gifts her a bracelet that used to belong to her mother. When Kari touches it, she experiences powerful and horrific visions, and begins to interact with the ghost of her mother, who may not just be missing.

Drenched in heavy metal music, Stephen King novels, and Indigenous mysticism, White Horse is a horror adjacent murder mystery that will keep you turning the pages... 







Desert Creatures by Kay Chonister

I requested a review copy of this one after seeing the glowing things Michael Kelly had to say about it (for those of you who don't know, Michael drinks the best beers, reads the best books, and publishes some of the most amazing small press literature out there!)

This book was a brain bomb of post apocalyptic dystopian western religious fanaticism (yes, I'm aware that's a mouthful). It takes place out in the middle of the desert. The world has been ravaged. Those who are still clinging to life do so against all odds, surviving in a brutal landscape, fighting off horrific "stuffed men" who have been infected by the desert, and avoiding other survivors who most certainly mean you more harm than good. Many are making their way to the city of Las Vegas, where religious relics for various saints are housed, in the hopes of being healed of their many afflictions, while others are deemed heretics and appear to be "saint touched", demonstrating an ability to do strange and miraclous things.

Told in three parts, we follow a young girl named Magdala over the span of many years, beginning when she first convinces her father to allow her to make the pilgramage to the holy city in an attempt to cure her clubfoot, through all of her trials and tribulations, to all the weird and wonderous people and places she encounters. It's deliciously dark and bleak and eerie and was just what the doctor ordered!







We Spread by Iain Reid

Recieved the e-arc today and devoured the book in a matter of hours on my couch during this lovely workbreak Covid has given me. While not as a mind bending as Reid's first novel, I'm Thinking of Ending Things, it still messes with the mind quite nicely, and leaves us asking ourselves what in the fuck did we just read?!?

Turning his attention to the elderly, he pokes a finger at some of our biggest fears - what happens when we start to outlive our loved ones? Who can we trust to look after us, care for us, do right by us? And what happens when we can no longer trust our own memories?

Apparently, Penny's longtime partner set her up for this exact situation, preparing a home for her at Six Cedars - a very small, very isolated retirement community that she doesn't recall discussing with him - in the event that he dies, which he has, and she's no longer able to care for herself on her own, which her landlord Mike believes after she takes a spill off a chair and gives him a scare.

Though Penny is moved into Six Cedars against her will, she quickly acclimates to the kindness of others, until things start seeming just a little bit... off. The owner Shelley and the sole staff member Jack talk to her as though she's been there a while, reminding her of things she's told them that she has no memory of sharing but she swears she's only been there days. Mornings and evenings seem to pass interchangably, the other residents are starting to act strange... and Penny is determined to figure out what the heck is happening to them.

This book reminded me so much of a movie I watched not too long ago with my husband, called The Manor, where an elderly woman is sent to a rehabilitation center and quickly determines some evil activies are taking place... only here, in We Spread, we don't really get the answers Penny is seeking. And I think we're kind of ok with it?








I went into this one expecting a bit more from it than it meant to deliver, I guess. I had really high hopes because I was so taken with his novel Suffer the Children. I mean hell, I read that book back in 2014 and I STILL catch myself thinking about it...

Plus, cults! religious nuts! and mysterious disappearances! How could I not love it?

It was definitely a slow burn, and I can totally see the comparisions to Stephen King's IT - the book follows four cult survivors as they reconnect around the 15 year anniversary of the Family of the Living Spirit masscare. Emily, the fifth survivor, just committed suicide, and the four who remain decide it's time to head back to Red Peak to uncover the mystery surrounding the Family's brutal murder-slash-suicide. The story bounces back and forth in time between present time and the past, slowly showing the reader just how F'd up the cult became, and exposing the trauma, guilt, and confusion each one has been carrying around with them all these years.

While there's no giant alien spider creature hiding out at the summit of Red Peak, there is certainly something terrifying and strange calling to them, and they plan to go and meet it head on regardless of what it wants.

There were a few times I considered chucking it, just due to the pace and the fear that it was all leading to a very disappointing end. And while I'm glad I kept reading, I wasn't disappointing in assuming it was going to be a disappointing end. If that makes sense. LOL.







Beach Bodies by Nick Kolakowski (Final Round Press)

Day four of my Covid binge reading quarantine found me cracking open this bad boy on my kindle app. Nick emailed me out of the blue yesterday with a review request and after checking out the book I knew I was going to end up pulling it to the top of the review pile. A billionaire's doomsday bunker on a beach? Three distressed strangers arrive out of nowhere, with one of them bleeding badly, demanding that the caretaker let them in? And that cover? Have you seen it? Yup. Count me in.

It's a helluva quick read, easily digested in a matter of hours, in one sitting really, because right from the get-go you're dying to know what the heck is going on. From page one, we're dropped straight into the bunker, with its current caretaker Julia and her kinda-sorta-boyfriend Alec as they're alerted to the fact that the the bunker's alarm slash camera system slash drone is trying to deploy when it detects something approaching outside. And from there, the weirdness begins.

Little pig, little pig, let us in...

Like Julia, we're standing there questioning everything that's happening, uncertain of what's going on, what's about to happen, and we're kept cleverly in the dark the entire time until that fucking ending. Oh wow that ending.







A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw


One of the joys of being home sick with Covid is the ability to say fuck it to everything and just lounge on the couch and read. Which makes it super easy to inhale a 350 page book in one day if you feel like it, and you guys, this book is best read in one sitting! Let me just tell you!

The writing is just so lush and engaging I was pulled in from page one. It's incredibly atmospheric - mysterious but not a mystery, cultish but not cultfic, psychological but not overly mental.

The book begins with a female writer by the name of Maggie St James' disappearance once the case goes cold and her parents have hired on Travis, who has a knack for finding the missing through visions he recieves when touching objects they've owned. He manages to track her to a extremely isolated compound called Pastoral, allegedly founded in the 1970's and thought to be a place of legend, and promptly goes missing himself.

Fast forward a few years later, and we meet Theo, Calla, and Calla's blind sister Bee, who are life long residents of Pastoral, a tight knit and completely self sustaining community of people who believe they are protected against the "rot" and evil of the outside world so long as they remain within the clearly marked boundaries of their home. Strangers are not welcome for fear of bringing disease and illness. Which causes some surprise for our trio when they begin to uncover some secrets that seem to point towards Travis and Maggie's existence there.

I've read some reviews where people claim the "twist" was really predictable but honestly, I was too engulfed in the story and allowing it to just unfold in front of me that I didn't even have TIME to try to piece together what was happening and I think that's the best way to do it. Let the story take you there... because once you get there, it lifts the entire thing up to a whole new level of what the fuckery!

I've had this book on my TBR for such a long time, and I'm so glad I finally picked it up! It's definitely making the list of my all time favorite reads this year!





Toad by Katherine Dunn

Even though I am out of my covid quarantine, I still feeling fuzzy headed and funky, and while I am no longer reading and reviewing from the confines of my living room couch, I still consider this covd read #6. Lol. Damn the 'Rona!

I've had Geek Love on my TBR for a while now and the only reason I left it there unread in favor of this one was because I requested the arc, and felt compelled to get to it before it released. Though now I'm wondering if I shouldn't have because... oh gosh, don't hate me... I was really unimpressed with Toad.

I've been there/done that with the whole sad girl genre and when written well, can totally get into it. But this one seemed to infect me with a strange malaise. It actually, literaly impacted my mood. It was just soooo blaaaah. I mean, ok, look, as I get older, I become more and more comfortable with the fact that I'm an introverted extrovert. I can do the socializing with people thing like the rest of you do,but then I need time to just back away and chill and reset. I get that about myself. And I thing most people, if they are honest with themselves, also like a break from other people from time to time but holy crap does this book work the one end of that spectrum to DEATH.

Our protag is basically living a hermetic life now after surviving a pretty bad mental breakdown, tucked away in her tiny home with a jug of fish on her counter and a vocal old toad in her garden, and staying as far from other people as possible.

The entire book is basically her dishing us up a plate of some really funky memories. And I can't tell if she's contentedly reliving these in her mind, or if she's just that haunted by them. Mainly, they are of a few friends she used to hang with that were a little odd and offbeat and whom she didn't even really seem to LIKE to hang with, by the way. Every so often there'd be a horror story with a boyfriend or co-worker for funsies. But ultimately, we float in and out of these moments with her and god she was such a bitch to everyone and everyone seemed to treat her like shit or put up with her simply because she was there and there so many times I thought I should probably just put this down and walk away because, while I wasn't hating it, I also wasn't getting into it, and I just kept disliking her more, the more I read. And it felt a little toxic. But here we are, less than two days and more than 350 pages later...



Soooo... do tell! What did you read last month? Have you read any of these?