Catch-Up Quickies 20

First a quick explanation!

Due to some severe health issues over the last few years, and a lingering chronic condition, my planned review schedule went right out of the window and I have been scrabbling ever since to get it back on track.

In my latest attempt to try to regain some lost ground, I have been scrunching some of my (overdue) reviews together into one or two posts each week: shorter reviews, but still covering all of the points I intended to.

That was the plan anyway. Recently, the dreaded C-word virus made its appearance in our house, bringing various other seasonal viral friends to the party, and progress has been slow-to-nonexistent, but I’m still trying.

So, here goes…!

Title:  The Revelation of Chester Fortunberry
Author:  Don Waitt
Publisher:  Two-Headed Calf Press

Blurb:  At age 52, Chester Fortunberry has the revelation that he alone exists on the planet. He embarks on a journey to discover if his revelation is true. Along the way he is kidnapped by a Master Chef, befriended by a disappearing hitchhiker, served tea and cookies by a Korean War vet, counseled by his scotch-swilling Uncle, smokes a cigar with his dead father, survives a gun battle, and finally finds his answer on a desolate beach talking to a young boy who can not speak. All while attempting to unravel the mystery of time, and the questions of where do we come from, why are we here, and where do we go next?

Review: In this very philosophical novel, Don Waitt takes Descartes premise of questioning one’s own existence and purpose and carries it over into the setting of a ‘normal’, mundane, everyday life.

The juxtaposition of the thoughtful exploration of Chester’s revelation about life with his imprisonment and interrogation by Theodore is surreal, and the story just gets increasingly surreal as it progresses.

Questions about the world, why we are here, the nature of time/space/reality, the meaning of life (42!), the theory of everything… all of these ideas are examined via Socratic questioning and dialogue, eventually leading Chester to his final revelation – the answer to all of his questions.

This is not a straightforward or easy read. The whole purpose and function of the story is to inspire the reader to think about the issues raised, as Chester is doing, and work their way towards their own answers. Those who enjoy Jostein Gaarder‘s novels will appreciate this philosophical-treatise-within-a-fictional-framework, as will anyone looking to ponder life’s mysteries alongside an ‘everyman’ guide.

Purchase Link: The Revelation of Chester Fortunberry on Amazon

Title:  The Summer of Guinevere
Author:  John V. Madormo
Publisher:  The Wild Rose Press Inc.

Blurb:  If you’re a fan of J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye,” you’ll want to read…”The Summer of Guinevere.”

The story of a shy, misunderstood teen who has never had the courage to ask a girl out on a date, and who longs for a lasting relationship.

It was the summer of 1968. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been cut down by a sniper’s bullet. Senator Bobby Kennedy, on the campaign trail in California, had been assassinated. The Democratic National Convention in Chicago had left a black eye on the city. And 16-year-old Paulie Passero was oblivious to it all.

In a coming-of-age story, an underachieving high school junior, who has never had the courage to ask a girl out on a date, is about to experience The Summer of Guinevere. When his father learns that his mother, the woman who disowned him years earlier, is lying on her deathbed, he decides to return to rural Leroy, Pennsylvania after more than two decades, to say goodbye. He takes Paulie along to meet the grandmother he has never known.

Paulie is unprepared for and unaccustomed to Smalltown USA. He busies himself with mundane activities until he notices a girl riding in the back of a pickup truck one day. He is immediately enamored with her. When the two finally meet, she wants nothing to do with him, but Paulie is determined to win her over. In what soon becomes the first meaningful relationship of his life, Paulie learns that this is a troubled girl with a shameful past who yearns to escape the clutches of an abusive father.

Review: This is a well-written coming-of-age story about girl-obsessed teenage boy Paulie Passero who joins his father on a trip to reconnect with estranged family and learns some life lessons along the way.

The story tackles some difficult subjects – domestic abuse, incest, homophobia, bullying – and does so in a sensitive, authentic way. The author has really captured both the voice of a confused teen on the cusp of adulthood and the nostalgic summers of many readers’ childhoods, and Paulie’s struggle with the injustices of the world around him are nicely portrayed.

Unfortunately, despite good characterisation and plot development, I simply got fed up with Paulie during the course of the book! His attitude to girls particularly provoked me (Violet, Andie, Guinevere) as he is simultaneously fickle and obsessive, and seems to view them as mere objects for his critique or lust, to be endangered, rescued or owned respectively. Similarly, he shows little empathy to any of his relatives, helping them out of a sense of duty or in order to get something from it rather than from any genuine care or concern. At times I couldn’t decide if he was a budding psychopath, or simply a typical, thoughtless teenager – focused on being the main character in his own dramatic story!

That said, he does develop and grow as the story unfolds and if every main character was perfect at the start of their story then there wouldn’t be any stories to tell!

This is one for readers who like a slow-burn, nostalgic, character-centred summer story about learning to see and think about the needs of others and appreciate the family and friendships you have.

Purchase Link: The Summer of Guinevere on Amazon

Title:  delicate doses
Author:  Jenny Hayut

Blurb:  delicate doses is a journey of love, of hope and of change in the most simplest of forms. the verses within these pages i hope prove that less can be more.

Review: This collection of (mostly) ten word poems – one per line – creates a series of slim, elegantly-shaped word vases, pleasing as visual art as well as textual art.

I found them so refreshing to dip in and out of, like little palate cleansers to give me a fresh perspective on my day.

Some of the poems rhyme and some don’t, but all have a compelling and/or soothing internal rhythm, and all have clever word-play and striking use of imagery in common.

To put it simply: I love these poems. They really spoke to me.

The minimalistic structure of each poem forces the reader to focus on each individual word and on an appreciation of each singly, along with the meaning of the whole.

If you like the sound of small, exquisitely-formed word pictures then this might be the poetry book for you.

Purchase Link: delicate doses on Amazon

Title:  Grotesque: Monster Stories
Author:  Lee Murray
Publisher:  Things in the Well

Blurb:  Winner of the Horror Writers Association Bram Stoker Award for best collection!

Three-time Bram Stoker Award® nominee (and with this book, now a winner!) Lee Murray delivers her debut collection, and it is monstrous. Inspired by the mythology of Europe, China, and her beloved Aotearoa-New Zealand, Murray twists and subverts ancient themes, stitching new creatures from blood and bone, hiding them in soft forest mists and dark subterranean prisons.

In this volume, construction workers uncover a hidden tunnel; soldiers wander, lost after a skirmish; and a dead girl yearns for company. Featuring eleven uncanny tales of automatons, zombies, golems, and dragons, and the Taine McKenna adventure Into the Clouded Sky, Lee Murray’s Grotesque: Monster Stories breathes new life into the monster genre.

Review: As the title suggests, this is a collection of monster stories by Lee Murray.

I have previously read Into the Sounds and Into the Ashes by this author, both of which are monster action thrillers, set in New Zealand and deeply rooted in the culture and mythology of the country. These short stories follow that same pattern, featuring everything from Godzilla and sand monsters to zombies and sorcerer’s constructs.

There’s even a Taine McKenna short story – ‘Into the Clouded Sky’ – for fans of Lee’s longer works, or to introduce new readers to her main series character.

Those that really got into my head and stayed with me the longest, were ‘Selfie’ in which modern technology and humanity are more than symbolically fused together, and ‘Heart Music’ which highlighted that the line between human and monster may be less distinct than one would hope.

Well-written, scary, haunting, gross and above all, memorable, these short stories are ideal for fantasy, sci-fi and horror readers looking for a new indie author to follow.

Purchase Link: Grotesque: Monster Stories on Amazon

Title:  Access Point
Author:  Tom Gabbay
Publisher:  JMS Books

Blurb:  When young American art student Mia Fraser is brutally murdered steps from the London house she shares with computer genius Ula Mishkin, it leaves the socially inept scientist heartbroken. As it becomes clear that Detective Sarah Boyd is making no progress in solving the crime with traditional methods, Ula creates a software program that allows her to reach into her dead housemate’s memory in order to reveal the identity of her killer.

Entering the dead girl’s life through the echo of her memory, Ula learns that sometimes the past is best left undisturbed.

Review: This story began with Ula , a scientist, trying to investigate the murder of her young housemate, Mia, by reliving her memories VR-style. And as quickly as that I was hooked in to this story and invested in both of the main characters.

This is a clever exploration of themes of memory and consciousness, including issues like the reliability of memory for various reasons and how our personalities/identities can affect the things we remember and how we remember them. And all of these thought-provoking ideas are given pace and tension via the vehicle of a sci-fi-ish psychological crime thriller plot.

The perspective skews and hints of unreliable narration from the beginning gradually build up to an unnerving and disorienting narrative atmosphere, where the reader is drawn into the questions of truth and reality along with the characters.

Access Point is a thoughtful look at how we know each other and ourselves, but also a tense, fast-paced and gripping thriller read.

Purchase Link: Access Point on Amazon

This batch couldn’t be more different if I had picked them out deliberately to contrast!

One philosophical journey, one nostalgic coming-of-age, one poetic work of art, one monster anthology and one psychological thriller with a sci-fi tint.

With so much variety, I hope you find one you love… let me know in the comments!

Keep smiling and keep reading! 🙂


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