Literary Fiction

At Drake’s Command

At Drake’s Command
Publisher:
Published: November 16, 2013
It was as fine a day to be whipped as any he’d ever seen but the good weather didn’t make Peregrine James any happier with the situation he was in. Unfairly convicted of a crime he had not committed, the young cook was strung from the whipping post on the Plymouth quayside when he caught the eye of the charismatic sea captain Francis Drake, who agreed to accept Perry among his crew despite the stripes of a thief on his back. Soon England was receding in their wake and Perry was serving an unsavory collection of sea dogs as the small fleet of fragile wood ships sailed across the deep brine. Their destination was secret, known to Drake alone. Few sailors believed the public avowal that the expedition was headed for Alexandria to trade in currants. Some men suspected Drake planned a raid across Panama to attack the Spanish in the Pacific. Others were sure the real plan was to round the Cape of Storms to break the Portuguese monopoly of the spice trade. The only thing Perry knew for certain was that they were bound for danger and that he must live by his wits if he were to survive serving at Drake’s command.

Reviewed by Katherine Ashe

At Drake’s Command, by David Wesley Hill, is a god-send to readers just embarking on maritime historical fiction or those boggled by Patrick O’Brian’s rich nautical vocabulary.

By making the narrator of his novel the young son of an innkeeper, innocent of all matters regarding the sea and learning at a leisurely pace, the reader is brought comfortably into the world of Elizabethan seamanship without the constant need of a diagram or a specialized dictionary. And there is quite sufficient action and period detail in this book to satisfy any reader who is not already a scholar of seafaring.

Mr. Hill is a writer of science fiction, for which he has won many awards. The particular virtue of the science fiction writer is his ability to create, down to the minutest detail, a world that exists only in his own imagination and has no external referents. This ability is brought to the subject of Francis Drake’s circumnavigation of the world. For young readers especially such attention to detail will be welcome. Readers knowledgeable in the period and in seafaring may become impatient with this painstaking approach. But there is good stuff here.

While following the records of Drake’s voyage, Hill is not at all averse to having his fictional young hero venture off on entertainingly imaginative yet thoroughly plausible adventures on his own.

And, once the author achieves comfort in this genre, he shows himself a writer of considerable skill and grace. If I have a complaint it’s the occasional lapse into anachronisms.

Finding a suitable language for characters in the past is one of the most delicate concerns of the historical novelist. In this Hill does reasonably well, keeping the speech easy for the modern reader yet with a sense of suitable distance. But when the central character utters the words, “I also relied on the tenderness of strangers,” he sounds startlingly like Blanche DuBois.

There are similar arresting instances. While such literary allusions might be amusing in science fiction, in historical novels, when they are far out of period they call attention to themselves in a way that yanks the reader out of the period the author should always be at pains to sustain.

Hill shows considerable interest in cookery, making the young hero’s background in an inn all the more plausible. But in describing some delectable Portuguese dishes the influence seems more 21 century haute cuisine than the healthful “four humours” that guided 16th century European cooks. While this may seem quibbling, readers of historical novels these days can be sticklers for period authenticity.

Apart from these minor issues, the tone of At Drake’s Command is highly refreshing. While Hill indulges in some colorful and heretical cussing for his mariners, his moral compass never fails, placing this work beside Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island for readability and clean adventure.

This volume does hardly more than begin the great voyage Drake achieved, so there will be further travels with Peregrine James, the youthful innkeeper’s son turned seafarer. Though it has taken perhaps an eighth of the book for the author to find his “sea legs” as a writer of maritime historical fiction, once he gains his stride he bowls along smartly and we can expect much delightful reading as the series sails onward.

Worlds Within Worlds

Worlds Within Worlds
Imagine living in a multi-layered reality of separate but complimentary worlds—physical, mental, spiritual and technological—when a bully you thought safely tucked away in the cyberworld suddenly appears in your physical world looking suspiciously like your worst nightmare. Can you stuff him back into your computer? And if not, can the Magan Lord’s daughter from the fantasy book you’re editing, your dreams of a rabid beast, your visions of a Tibetan Yogi and your reawakened memories help you maintain your sanity and survive the darkest night of your life? Find out in the double award-winning metaphysical thriller Worlds Within Worlds when all this happens to author, editor and reviewer Prunella Smith. This inspirational, transrealist work—a mix of psychological thriller, fantasy and romance—has been awarded the Awesome Indies Seal of Excellence and a BRAG Medallion of Excellence in Independent Fiction. Worlds Within Worlds has a unique perspective on the nature of creativity. Its touch is light, its humour distinctive but it reaches deep into the nature of human experience.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies Assessor

December 12, 2014

I received a free copy of Tahlia Newland’s Prunella Smith: Worlds within Worlds for review, and I have to say up front – this is a book that is long overdue. It addresses cyber bullying, especially as it pertains to writers and reviewers, but does so in a chilling way that will live you looking over your shoulder with every word you write.

Prunella Smith is a freelance editor and author who is up against a deadline on an editing job – a fantasy story about an adventurous woman, Kelee, who is having an affair with a young groomsman on her estate. Ella, as she is known, is also a book reviewer, and a recent review of a not-so-good novel has provoked the author, Dita, to begin a campaign of on-line stalking and bullying. Dita’s cyber bullying begins to take its toll, interfering with Ella’s ability to objectively edit Kelee’s story, and things only get worse when she discovers that she has a physical stalker as well.

Newland’s tale kept me interested from page one – and the little surprise she threw in near the end, well -2 I didn’t see that one coming. A thoroughly entertaining story. An easy five stars here.

Reviewed by Frank Kusy (aka Wussyboy)

This is a very topical book, a very well written one too. Thirty something Ella Smith lives in a remote log cabin in the Australian bush, cut off from most of humanity but connected through her mind and imagination (and her internet) to a multitude of worlds: at times she is a writer/editor in the real world, at others she is a wise old Yogi in the prelude to the 1959 Chinese invasion of Tibet, or Kelee, the fictional warrior princess with whom she comes to identify strongly through the book she is editing. Not to mention her alter ego as Electra, an ‘after dark’ dancer in a local strip joint. The topicality of the book comes when Ella responds to a request of an ‘honest’ review from an arrogant (and unbalanced) author on his new novel and gives him just that… a two-star review on a social media website (Amazon) which he deeply resents. At this point, we enter Stephen King territory – the demented author Dita shouting “Take it down!” much as the main protagonist of King’s ‘Thinner’ shouts ‘Take it off!’ to the gypsy who has laid a curse him. When she doesn’t, the author turns cyber troll and begins invading her virtual world with increasingly nasty abuse and threats, along with one-star reviewing her own recently published book. As the bullying author penetrates even her dream world (he’s a dark, human shaped blob in a hoodie!) her other identities as Kelee, Electra and the Yogi also run into crisis, and she struggles, through her Buddhist practice, to elevate her mind above the worldly concern of being unliked by 20 Facebook friends overnight. ‘Sometimes it’s hard being a Buddhist,’ she observes when not just one but two stalkers get on her case – the fight is on, in her own mind, to see all obstacles as opportunities, to see Dita, The Creep and even the evil Beak as fuel to fire her own journey to enlightenment. This is riveting stuff, part magical realism dreamscape, part taut psychological thriller, and I was literally on the edge of my seat when the final twist – and what a twist it is – came around. Phew, what a ride!
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an ‘honest’ review of my own. Well done, Ms Newland, I can honestly say this is the best book have read this year.

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Reviewed by Amy Spahn

Worlds Within Worlds tackles the problem of identity in the age of technological anonymity. Ella Smith is an independent author and editor whose online life crashes into reality with disturbing implications. The book questions how much of one’s true self can – and should – be broadcast to the world.

The story also delves into the nature of authorship when anyone with a computer can publish themselves instantly. What determines the value of a writer? Their career success? Their contributions to other authors, appreciated or not? What about when their readers disagree with their interpretations of their work? Who is the final authority when everyone has an opinion?

This book will make you think. Considering the deluge of new works streaming from authors these days, that may be the highest praise a novel can receive.

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Reviewed by Robyn Gregory

World Within Worlds was an interesting read. There was a mixture of Buddhism, magical realism and present-day problems of a 30-something writer/editor. She has chosen career over a family and children. She seems fairly content with the decision. During the time she is editing another author’s book she is bullied online by an author who she gave a bad review to. My only issue with it was that there were too many storylines running at the same time and I was having a little bit of trouble following along with them. I think it would have been better if they had her story alongside Kelee’s story (the one she was editing). But, otherwise, it was able to keep my interest. I received this book free from Awesome Indies Books in return for an honest review.

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Reviewed by Justin Spahn

My wife recommended this book to me, and I absolutely loved it. I do not normally review, well, anything on Amazon, but I decided it was time to start, having read something which inspired me to respond. Its multiple layers were very compelling, and the author struck just the right balance of keeping the various strands and plot threads and titular worlds separated as well as intertwined.

I love how thoughtful this book was. It asked many questions about reality, imagination, and how perception and intent shape the world and vice versa. It gripped my attention and fascinated me, and I found that I couldn’t put it down. The main character is in her own world, experiencing the worlds of others through meditation, social media, dreams, and real-life clashes. In addition, the entire book is a world of its own within the author’s mind, and I myself, as the reader, am yet another world into which her worlds are introduced and experienced. Is the book I finished reading the same book that the author wrote? Did I perceive and experience it the way it was intended, or did I myself change the book simply by observing it, like a quantum physics experiment? Not since “If On A Winter’s Night a Traveler” by Italo Calvino have I felt so intellectually stimulated by a novel!

Finally, I find that I’ve bonded with the main character, which is quite a feat as I personally share virtually nothing in common with her, and yet I miss her terribly. I eagerly look forward to the release of the sequel!

Regarding Anna

Regarding Anna
Published: February 26, 2015
After recovering from the shock of her parents perishing in a tragic accident, Grace Lindroth discovers clues in their attic that cause her to believe the people she called Mom and Dad her whole life may not have been her real parents. Certain clues to her real identity draw Grace to a boardinghouse once owned by Anna Vargas, and she becomes convinced that Anna was her real mother. But there’s more at stake than Grace’s identity, and a chance person in Grace’s life is determined to get a piece of it. The lies and secrets that Grace exposes in her quest for the truth are both shocking and life-changing—and not only for herself.   Author's Website  

A Funeral for an Owl

A Funeral for an Owl
Author:
Illustrator: Andrew Candy
Published: November 3, 2013
What kind of a boy would it take to convince two high school teachers to risk their careers? Times have changed since Jim Stevens chose to teach. Protocol designed to protect children now makes all pupil/teacher relationships taboo – even those that might benefit a student. What kind of boy would cause Jim to risk his career? A boy who can clothe a word in sarcasm; disguise disdain with respect. So what is it that Jim finds he has in common with 14-year-old Shamayal Thomas as they study the large framed photograph of an owl that hands above the fireplace? It is Aimee White’s owl, to be specific. At least, that’s how Jim thinks of it. A powerful exploration of the ache of loss, set in a landscape where broken people can find each other.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies Assessor

December 8, 2014

Jane Davis has the insight and sensitivity of a great writer; with a little more refinement, she could be a great writer. This story is about a school teacher accidentally stabbed as he tried to break up a fight at school. As he recovers in hospital, he remembers his childhood and the people who left him. People always leave him, and that’s why he avoids a relationship with a female colleague, the second on the scene of the accident and the one who visits him regularly in hospital because he doesn’t really have anyone else—except a student in need that he has reached out to.

The story has several themes. One is the downside of the rules of disclosure and child protection laws when a teacher comes across instances of abuse in a child’s family, and the limitations put on a teachers’ ability to help when a student needs help beyond what can be given within the school’s walls. Another is the affect a missing person has on those that care for the person, and the third is the challenges faced by those living ‘on the wrong side of the tracks’, particularly in relationship to negotiating the gangs.

Davis is skilled at creating real, complex characters that we can relate to and quickly care about. Their circumstances draw out our empathy and increase our understanding of a lifestyle that is probably foreign to most readers. The plot revolves around the suggestion that the two teachers may get together, the question of whether he will live or die and what will happen to the neglected boy with the candid opinions and insightful perception of his two teacher’s lives. As in real life, things do not run smoothly or tie up neatly, and yet the book comes to a satisfying conclusion that is neither soppy nor depressing.

This is a book to which I would love to award 5 stars, but this is not possible due to some formatting issues (blank lines between every paragraph), the occasional clumsy prose constructions and several instances of poor grammar that, though not noticed by your average reader, would not pass an editor in a major publishing house—and this is the benchmark that the Awesome Indies measures against in awarding 4 stars. I have pointed out these issues to the author and I believe that the formatting will be fixed.

The Evolution of Reptilian Handbags and Other Stories

The Evolution of Reptilian Handbags and Other Stories
An unhappy housewife flees with her lover as civilization collapses in a tsunami of trash. A bank teller aids invisible thieves. A welder learns she has the power to kill with a kiss. A hive of women transforms tourists with arcane sexual rites. A Korean War sniper stalks his doppelganger: a children’s television host. Amnesiac goddesses-turned-farmers struggle for survival in war-torn, post-apocalyptic Iowa. By turns emotionally resonant and irreverent, surreal and sexy, these ten stories swirl with unseen currents, blending the fantastic and the mundane to get to the deeper truths of our existence.

A Hole in the Pavement

A Hole in the Pavement
Every morning, Norris watches his goddess walk to the bus stop in front of him, the gap between them far wider than the physical distance. This morning, she stumbles. He wants to run and help her, but finds himself stuck in a hole that appeared along with his self doubt. By the time he gets out, she’s long gone. He vows that if it happens again, he won’t hesitate, but when she falls the next day, he has more than his own hole to deal with. Can he find his heroic self before she walks away?

Reviewed by Awesome Indies

 

When you’re reading a sweet, tender story of romance, you don’t expect to be on pavements with holes in them, or at bus stops, or held in the routines of the morning’s commute, and you certainly don’t expect that setting to contribute to the story’s charm. That, however, is exactly what Tahlia Newland has achieved here. There are just two characters, each with a self-image that’s far from flattering. The girl thinks she has ‘thunder thighs’ and an expanding waistline and yet she ‘can’t give up eating ice cream’. The man sees her as a goddess and himself as an ordinary mortal. He suspects she finds his bow tie unfashionable but to her, it’s cute. And so the story develops in this world of ‘rusty fences, cracked paths, faded paintwork and builders’ rubble’.

But it’s also a world which has ‘the fragrance of Jasmine in the warm air’ and it’s this juxtaposition of mundane everyday elements and the dreams and fantasies which we all carry that leads the whole to a very satisfying conclusion. The strange holes which keep appearing are part of the crumbling everyday setting and yet, in the story, they have a generative, symbolic function. They’re an excellent metaphor, used with restraint and sensitivity. This is magical realism at a seemingly simple and yet powerful level. And it’s all in the characters and the use of language. Their feelings are ‘golden’, ‘brilliant’. Magnolia leaves carpet the ground, but the hole contains sticky-looking mud. The ‘thunder-thighed’ woman has eyes with ‘endless depths’, the shy, tongue-tied man becomes a rescuing knight. And it seems that the holes were never there at all.

 

Lost In Thought

Lost In Thought
A journey into the perils and pitfalls of the subconscious mind – to save a life, solve a crime and recover an algorithm that could change the world. A secret that could change the world is lost inside Richard Trescerrick’s comatose mind. The only hope is the Brainscape device, an experimental mind-link technology and doorway to the subconscious. To save his life and recover the formula, a team of police and doctors use the Brainscape to enter Richard’s unconscious mind. Along for the ride is estranged son Luke who must risk his life and sanity on a mission to wake his father, unmask a killer and expose a conspiracy that threatens the world. But when the Brainscape device is sabotaged the team is scattered and trapped in the subconscious unable to escape. If they die in here, they die for real and there are dangers everywhere – because in the labyrinth of the Brainscape, enemies lurk behind every memory. Secrets spawn riddles wrapped in metaphor. Stories come alive. And monsters are made flesh.

Reviewed by Tony McFadden,

4 Stars

“Lost in Thought” is a psychological thriller, the bastard child of Inception, The Cell, and a little bit of The Matrix.

Luke Trescerrick is in a bad place. His mother is dead, his father, Richard, is emotionally unreachable and his young son, Daniel, is possibly autistic and definitely in need of professional help. When it can’t possibly get worse, he’s evicted from his crappy little Cornish cottage by his father, who then is a victim of a home invasion, left in a coma.

It’s the coma that is the centrepiece of the novel. The coma, and Brainscape – a device invented by his father to enter the (sub)consciousness of others.

Richard kept a key part of the device secret. His business partner is keen to use Brainscape to go in and try and find the key. Medical professionals are interested in seeing if Brainscape can help lift Richard out of the coma and the police, specifically one eager, ambitious Detective Inspector Yvonne Warren, is very interested in the potential investigative powers of the tool.

They enter Richard’s subconscious and embark on a journey of ego, super-ego, id, metaphors and archetypes, all running around in the fantastic world of Richard’s imagination and memories.

After a bit of a slow start (not so slow that I was tempted to stop reading), the pace quickly picks up once the band of not so merry men and women start traversing the brain. Townley does a good job of creating the main characters – Luke, his father, Cate the psychologist and Dubois, the business partner, are real. The worlds are real. At least as real as imaginary worlds can be, and the premise of summoning metaphors and archetypes move around and solve problems while inside the subconscious is genius. And the ticket out, a brilliant idea.

Townley does a great job with this book. Structurally there is nothing wrong and Luke’s evolution is a very well-defined arc. A strong four stars. I’m looking forward to reading more of his work.