Ruskin’s Copper Shadow is set in Victorian times, and it has the feel of a Victorian novel, a mix of Dickens and Trollope and a touch of Wilkie Collins. Not quite a roman à clef, nonetheless the life and passions of its central character, the Canon, reflect and mirror in spirit some of the life of the polymath and social reformer John Ruskin.
For a modern novel, the pacing is slow and the story, like a stream in summer, slowly meanders among characters and settings, but if you relax and drift along, the view is enjoyable. A debut novel based to some extent on some unexplained history in the author’s family, it examines the all-to-frequent occurrence in Victorian (and later) society – who fathered the child of a servant? It looks at the manners and expectations of Victorian society, and the gulf between the strict propriety of the Church and the upper classes, and humane behavior; it examines guilt and redemption.
Ruskin’s Copper Shadow won’t appeal to everyone. It’s very much an allegory: several characters have no identity beyond their titles: the Canon, the Magistrate; others are stock figures. But they were in Dickens, too, many times. Sometimes the reasons for the Canon’s behaviour are unclear, as that meandering stream divides and one stream goes underground for a while here and there, but it always re-emerges. I enjoyed where its currents took me.
I wanted to read this book in one long sitting, immersing myself in its beautifully drawn world.
A review with a guest blog from the author, Karen Heenan.
I absorbed my father’s love for Tudor history almost by osmosis, and it’s never left me, although the better-known aspects of Henry VIII’s six wives and his rift with the Roman Catholic Church were never the parts that interested me the most. Social history and the lives of people who were not courtiers or nobles, but still affected by the massive changes that Henry brought to England during his reign, are my area.
Karen Heenan’s Songbird caught my
attention as soon as I heard about it, pre-publication. I knew about Henry’s
love for music: he was reputed to be a skilled musician himself. I knew,
vaguely, that he had court singers and minstrels, and with a little thought I
would have related the name William Cornysh with Henry’s court, and I might
have even known he had something to do with music.
This tale of Bess, a young girl sold to the
King for her pure, lovely voice, and of her training to be part of the troupe
of singers who entertained Henry and his court plunges the reader into the
lives of a group of young men and women of the back corridors and rooms of the
palaces. Like all royal servants, they had little control over their lives;
they were subject to royal demands and whimsies: sing now; travel now; perform
now, as they moved in and out of favour.
It would be easy to see them as pawns, unimportant, but Heenan crafts a rich and satisfying story around three lives, the girl Bess, the boy Tom, and the outsider Robin. The names expected in a Tudor court story are there, of course: Henry himself, Queen Katherine, Anne Boleyn, Cardinal Wolsey. But they are the minor characters. Through Bess’s eyes, we see events unfolding that are familiar to any student of Tudor history, but we also see the intimate details of her own.
Heenan writes with confidence and style, vividly
drawing the reader into the Tudor court. Each character in her story is fully real,
even the enigmatic Robin, and as they mature over the course of the book, their
personalities develop. They become much more complex, but in ways that seem
fully consistent with the children the reader first meets.
Court intrigues and politics; the fear of
almost-random death from disease or accident; the divisions of class and the
restrictions of religion: all these form the background to a bittersweet love
story that unfolds over the course of the story. Each colours Bess’s view of
life. her expectations, and her determination to grasp as much control of her
life as is possible for a young woman in her position.
I wanted to read this book in one long sitting, immersing myself in its beautifully drawn world both familiar and new. I didn’t: I rationed myself, to enjoy it longer. I await its planned sequel with impatience.
William Cornysh and the Alchemy of Fiction
by Karen Heenan
Songbird was inspired by a throwaway fact in a biography of Henry VIII: the music-obsessed King once purchased a child from his mother to sing in the chapel choir. That was all it took to send me down the rabbit hole of history.
Then, of course, it occurred to me that meant I would
be writing a book about music. I knew next to nothing about Tudor-era music,
its structure, or its instruments. Thankfully, my main character, Bess, was a
singer, so I could start there and learn as I wrote.
I quickly encountered the King’s Music, the name used
for the royal company of minstrels who entertained at court, both publicly and
in private, and placed Bess among them.
On researching the Music, and the topic of Tudor music
generally, it was impossible to miss William Cornysh, who, in addition to being
a significant composer of music both religious and secular, was Master of the Children
of the Chapel Royal, and also managed many of the musical and dramatic
entertainments at court.
Those few facts were enough to start building the man,
and then, with the strange alchemy that is fiction, when I learned more about
him, those new facts fit the character I had created. Cornysh was talented,
hard-working, and seemingly underappreciated, having only been rewarded with a
grant of property shortly before his death in 1523. He was also a father figure
to the choristers, many of whom were quite young. When the court was in London,
the children often spent nights at Cornysh’s house with him and his wife, Jane,
giving them a taste of normal life.
Much of my research for Songbird was done in the dark
days of the pre-internet era, which on one hand meant I stumbled across
interesting facts that I didn’t know I needed, but on the other meant I didn’t
always find what I needed, except by the same happy accident.
As an example, the story had moved on from Bess’s
early days with the Music, and Cornysh was mentioned only rarely. Then, while
reading an online article totally unrelated to him, I saw a mention of his
What to do? He wasn’t a major character at that point,
and leaving him alive wouldn’t be egregious because history would not be
changed in service to the story, but my sense of accuracy meant I could not
suffer a man to live who had actually died.
Back I went to give him his end, and the story was actually stronger for his loss.
Trillium, a multi-generational saga set in Ontario’s fruit-growing Niagara Peninsula.
I recently reviewed M.L. Holton’s novel Trillium, a multi-generational saga set in Ontario’s fruit-growing Niagara Peninsula. I live less than an hour north of this area, and local history has always been an interest of mine. I thoroughly enjoyed the book (my full review is here), so I asked the author to talk a little bit more about the work.
Tell us about what inspired Trillium.
I had been thinking for awhile about how I wanted to focus on a rural environment rather than an urban one as per my last two novels, Economic Sex and The Gilded Beaver by Anonymous.
Small farming communities are tightly-bound social networks
of multi-generational cross-breeding. They are, in the main, supportive and
stable. In North America, they are rapidly becoming a thing of the past as the
young move to the cities for better employment opportunities and generational
farmers, with miniscule profit-margins, sell-out to larger agri-business
concerns. The migration is undercutting the bedrock of our uniquely Canadian
I also wanted to explore and expand on the on-going
controversy between ‘nature’ versus ‘nurture’. How do we become who we are?
Trillium spans a period of 250 years, from early settlement on the Niagara Peninsula to the early 2000. This timeframe gave me a much larger canvas to work.
❖ How has your life influenced your writing, specifically in this book?
There’s no question that I have pulled on my life experiences to craft this work.
I grew up on the fringe of a farming community in Halton
County. We raised sheep and fowl on a small scale. As a child, I watched and
learned from my enterprising father, (born and raised in the area), as he constantly
interacted with the landscape and livestock on our property. Nature was omnipresent
– dictating birth, life and death. Working outside with my brothers and my
father was always fun and pleasurable. Wind in our hair, dirt up our
fingernails. This quasi-bucolic country lifestyle was very far removed from the
social lifestyle that my mother managed to create for our family. She was
involved with various local charities, sport associations and social clubs ‘in
the city’. That activity widened our community circle and life experiences. My
father’s family business was involved with the early development of a yarn
company in Hamilton during the 19th century. But, by the mid 1980s, this
century-old family firm experienced an acute downturn as a result of cheaper
South American and Asian imports. We all had to adjust.
As example, I was removed from a distanced private
school of 600 students and started attending a nearby public high school of 3000
students. Rather than getting picked up by a bus, I walked to school. To a
wide-eyed teen, the differences between the two learning institutions were
acute. Coordinated school uniforms were replaced by the media-driven trends of ‘fashion’.
Individual ‘popularity’ was valued more than team work or basic ‘competence’.
These kinds of juxtapositions caught my eye and ear
and became a kind of foundation about my evolving observations about the
‘otherness’ of people. I seemed a perpetual ‘outsider’, and did not fully
integrate into any group ‘clique’ after the transition.
I believe this ‘outsider’ status has served me well, long term. It gives me not only an individualistic perception of ‘what’s going on’ but it provides a critical emotional distance to ‘assess’. I have always thought of myself as a ‘witness’ more than a participant. It is a good vantage point and strong starting point for any writer: distanced observation.
❖The cover is your own art work! Tell us about it.
I wanted a cover image that amplified the central idea of natural growth in the story. In this instance, the focus was on a regional grape vine. Initially, I started with a stark photo image but it was too hard. I then tried a stylized graphic but it was too ephemeral. I finally settled on a close-up detail from an oil painting I had done some years ago ~ of a man’s hand holding a grape cluster. To my mind, the image is perfect. It is a human hand connected to the growing land.
❖What do you hope readers will take from Trillium?
My intent was to write an entertaining as well as enlightening book about the evolving rural area around the southern end of Lake Ontario, in Canada.
In order to do that, I crafted the bedlam and chaos
of a ‘good story’, filled with emotional arcs and empathy etc,, but interwove
the story around fascinating pieces of local history from the Greater Hamilton
and Niagara area. The medley of colourful characters is also influenced by larger
global events, like the rise of fascism in Europe during the 1930s and the two World
Wars of the twentieth century. I wanted to make this fictional story ‘believable’
to the contemporary reader. As far as I know, no-one in the vicinity has
attempted a similarly ambitious ‘grassroots’ construct.
I think my voice is rather unique in the telling. But, ultimately, readers must determine if that is true or not.
❖What is odd or quirky or engaging about your story or characters?
There’s plenty of quirk in this work, primarily because each character has an early failing or foible that manifests later. These insights drive the story forward so that there are ‘aha’ moments when a later incident clicks into place. It’s basic ‘cause & effect’ that amplifies the intimate causality of human interactions.
Character names were chosen to reflect the ethnic origins of their families and to help readers keep the large cast of characters clear in their minds. As example, Gregorio is clearly not part of the O’Sullivan clan …
One outstanding quirk was the development of the simpleton savant Anna. Illiterate and sheltered from the world by her protective Italian family, Anna, untethered from normal social conventions, has an uncanny knack with plants. She can grow anything. Her simplistic yet attuned capability irreversibly alters the course of her family’s evolution. To say more may ruin the story for some, so I’ll stop there except to say, readers do seem to resonate with her. She’s a peach, so to speak.
❖To whom would you recommend this book to? Are there any trigger warnings or age restrictions?
I would recommend this story to anyone who loves rambling family sagas, epic storytelling, and historical fiction that rides the vicissitudes of human logic and emotions. There’s a lot going on in this story: good, bad, ugly and even, at times, indifference as the narrative voice pulls back to ‘observe’.
As each generation matures into adulthood, Trillium could be seen as an adult ‘coming-of-age’ tale. As for warnings, there are three sex scenes that are rather graphic. Their violence is an integral part of the story, so that’s that.
❖Would Trillium translate well to the screen? If so, who should make it or star in it?
Ideally, I think this would make an engaging Canadian series ~ a timely cross between the British drama, ‘Peaky Blinders’ and the well-scripted American family drama, ‘Bloodline’, set in Florida.
Trillium would, of course, have to be 100% Canadian. Why? Because Canada is still very young on the world stage. We are in desperate need of these in-depth local stories to explain the unique evolution of our own particular civil society. Otherwise, we’ll continue to be swamped by better told English-speaking stories from elsewhere.
My dream team would be a co-production between
Anglo-Canadian, Irish and Italian producers (to achieve maximum market share),
with a well-rounded cast from each ethnic origin. The director, showrunners and
crew would be Canadian. It could all be shot on location around the southern
end of Lake Ontario – from hovels to mansions.
I have done a preliminary casting, just for fun. In the end though, that’s a pipedream for a writer. If the title was optioned by an established production company, all those casting and location decisions would be their responsibility. Yes, I am the originator of this story, but a team of seasoned scriptwriters would have to flush it out to make it truly noteworthy as well as globally marketable. The story is all there, for the right team.
❖What genre is Trillium? Is this your preferred genre to write in? What do you read?
I call this a hybrid historical fiction. As I explained above, I wrote a ‘good story’ around many current and timely issues.
In the past, I have written poetry, social history, journalism, and two other long-form fictional works. I love the nuances of languages and the endless possibilities that they offer to an open imagination.
My reading, as a human on the planet, has always been ferocious.
❖Tell us about your writing process.
For this title, I followed a strict regimen. From February to October of 2018, I did nothing but write, edit, re-craft and finalize the work. Literally, 10am to 6pm, 5 days a week. I took weekends off to recharge and took hourly lunches during the writing week to refresh myself.
It may interest your readers to know that I wrote a detailed outline for Trillium almost a decade ago. That outline smouldered in my writing box until I found the key to access the story. The key was ‘technology’.
Technology has transformed our lives over a very short period of time. I wanted to ‘document’ that evolution and could do that quite clearly within a historical context.
I stopped this story before the internet became
Say ‘ancient Rome’ and you have my attention immediately.
Say ‘ancient Rome’ and you have my attention immediately. So I had to read Brook Allen’s debut novel, and I also invited her to contribute a guest post to this blog. So, here’s my review, and her piece, and some of her photos, too!
is a familiar historical figure. Whether it’s from Shakespeare, film, video
games or history class, his basic story as Julius Caesar’s right-hand man, Cleopatra’s
lover, and a key figure in the transformation of Rome from a republic to an imperial
state is known to many. But how did he become this man? What drove him?
Antonius, Son of Rome, the first book in a planned trilogy about Marc
Antony’s life. Beginning when Marcus is in early adolescence, the story intertwines
known information with imaginative situations. Impeccably researched and richly
described, Allen brings the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic to life.
Her characterization of the young Antonius gives insight into and motivation
for later actions.
in research for my own books, I took a course on the fall of the Roman republic.
I rather wish I hadn’t bothered: reading Allen’s series will be a far more
entertaining way of reminding myself of the history! But even though the personalities and actions
of this period are fresh in my mind, I wasn’t the least bit bored by Son of
Rome. Creating suspense when the outcome is known is a difficult task, and
one well-managed in this novel. When an author can vitalize known history and familiar
characters as well as Allen has in this book, I know I’m onto a writer I’m
going to want to follow.
Highly recommended for readers interested in the period, or who would like to know more about this tumultuous, influential time in the history of Rome and its empire. I am very much looking forward to the rest of the trilogy!
I’ll never forget the first time I visited Pompeii.
I entered through the Marina Gate and as I walked slowly toward the Forum, it was as though I was going back into time with each and every step. And the place still possesses its very human story through its various buildings—some of which still stand complete—and it’s wall frescoes and plaster-cast molds of victims. The site is a world treasure. Though people and animals tragically died here, it’s a veritable time-capsule of information on just how ancient Romans lived and died. And perhaps the most surprising thing that a visitor takes with them upon leaving is the thought that, “They were just like us!”
In Rome itself, apartment buildings called insulae (islands) were often up
to seven or even eight stories high. Plutarch, an ancient biographer who liked to tell the stories of famous Greeks and Romans, told about Marcus Licinius Crassus, a contemporary of Julius Caesar. Crassus became rich through vast purchases of properties in Rome—specifically insulae. Since Rome had no fire brigade at the time, Crassus trained a band of his own slaves to be firemen. If there was a fire in an insula, which occurred regularly, due to people trying to cook in their apartments, Crassus would show up with his firemen. He’d offer to buy the insula for a ridiculously low price and the poor, panicked owner would either have to sell his enflamed property or watch it burn, as Crassus would only order his firemen into action if he sealed a deal.
And—hey! McDonald’s anyone? Common plebians typically ate their meals at fast food stalls, located on the streets and sometimes even built into insulae. Americans might think they invented fast-food, but these tiny eateries would serve up steaming veggies and meats onto husks of bread for a filling meal two-thousand years ago. It was only the upper middle classes and families of noble descent who could really afford to recline in their painted triclinia, served by slaves.
Lastly, I have to mention the Roman passion for games. Now their tastes were different than ours—bloody beast and gladiator shows were the norm. But this enormous public park easily lends to our imaginations what mighty structure once stood there. The Circus Maximus was the place to go for gladiator shows, public executions of criminals, and the favorite Roman pastime—chariot racing!
The Circus Maximus is HUGE and worth a visit. Visitors can still walk where the original track was laid out and see where the spina—the “spine” of the complex—once was. By Julius Caesar’s day, this enormous arena seated over one-hundred-fifty THOUSAND people! As the Republic morphed into Empire, several Emperors renovated and improved the mighty Circus Maximus, and other hippodromes similar to it were added in notable cities throughout the Roman Empire.
I am of the opinion that there’s NOTHING boring about history. People who poo-poo the study of other cultures from the past simply haven’t gotten INTO the spirits of the people who once lived so long ago. Tourists who visit Pompeii and experience the many similarities between ancient Roman culture and ours are right. In many regards, they were “just like us.”
Brook Allen (Click on Brook’s name to go to her blog, full of more information about Rome and its inhabitants.)
An ideal summer read, a few hours of delightful escapism, and iwritten with a deft hand.
Evie’s thoughts on writing the story:
I’ve had the idea of writing a series of fairy tale re-imaginings with LGBTQ+ characters for longer than I can remember. However, because the concept felt so daunting, it wasn’t one I’d put a lot of focus or thought into. That is until I submitted another manuscript to a Romance Writers of America contest and received a full request from Sue Brown-Moore, the acquisitions editor for Dreamspinner Press’s category romance line, Dreamspun Desires. She enjoyed my voice, but the manuscript I’d given her didn’t fit with the angst-free guidelines of her line.
After chatting with her—and darn near falling in love, because she’s a wonderful human—I decided to take a crack at writing the first in my fairy tale re-imaginings series with the Dreamspun Desires guidelines in mind. Around this time, I was offered representation by Eva Scalzo from Speilburg Literary. I signed with her, and we were off and running almost immediately with a proposal to Sue for a Beauty and the Beast retelling starring Adam Littrell, a grumpy MMA fighter nicknamed “The Beast,” and his sweet personal assistant Beauregard Wilkins.
I had an absolute blast writing Adam and Bo’s story. Once I got the green light from Sue, I dove in and wrote all 55K of the manuscript in less than six weeks. A few rounds of editing with my agent later and Beauregard and the Beast found itself in Sue’s hands. Much to my delight, she offered a contract less than a week later.
Truly, my experience in writing these characters was a magical one. I had to fight some of my most basic creative instincts to avoid the angst that so typically becomes an integral part of my plots. Every time my characters tried to steer me toward a plot bunny that would undoubtedly gum up the fluffy romance works, I’d pop back to the outline I’d created during the proposal stage and crack the whip until they fell back into line. It wasn’t easy, but it was a labor of love and taught me a great deal about the art of writing and about myself as a writer.
I have several more stories already pinging around my brain to continue the series, including a Little Mermaid retelling with an Olympic swimmer I’m hoping to publish during the 2020 Olympics!
Adam is the
Beast, a mixed-martial-arts champion who has never let anyone close to him: his
career’s always come first. But he isn’t a youngster any more, and his ring
persona has very little to do with who he really is.
One thing Adam truly is, however, is disorganized, which is why he needs a personal assistant. Enter Beauregard, a bookish guy with a sister in college to support. He’s also almost irresistibly cute. The attraction between them is immediate, but inappropriate: Adam is Bo’s employer. How long will they be able to keep the relationship professional?
updated version of Beauty and the Beast, written as a male/male romance, Evie
Drae has given us a sweet, sexy story. It’s an ideal summer read, a few hours
of delightful escapism, and it’s written with a deft hand. I laughed out loud
several times (to the consternation of my cat). The sex scenes are detailed, so
if you prefer love-making in a book to be more veiled, be aware. There are
stumbling blocks in the road to love, as there must be any romance, but without
spoilers I’ll say the ending does not disappoint.
Their Greatest Game continues the story of Theren, the world’s first synthetic intelligence, that began in First of Their Kind.
Their Greatest Game continues the story of Theren, the world’s first synthetic intelligence, that began in First of Their Kind. Less overtly philosophical than First of Their Kind, Their Greatest Game continues to ask important questions about what makes us human – and what makes a god. The strong religious (not necessarily Christian, as stories of sacrifice, rebirth, and godhood belong to many people) overtones do not in the slightest detract from the classic science fiction elements. This book in the series takes place over a much longer time frame, necessitating some techniques for covering the lacunae in the action that Tavenor handles for the most part well, although one or two I found a little overlong. Theren grows in power; their ability to spread their divided consciousness across worlds speaks to their evolution toward a deity-like being, a concept further strengthened by decisions Theren makes about their corporeal body late in the book. But they are not omnipotent, nor omniscient, and there are consequences to their choices. I remain very impressed by Tavenor’s writing, both in clarity and concept: it makes me think, the science is sound (or at least as far as I, a biologist/geneticist by education, can tell), and the character of Theren compelling. What disappointed me to some extent was the epilogue, where Tavenor introduces a new concept, or at least one that is mentioned occasionally but not fully explored until then. It had a slight ‘added-on’ feel, suggesting that it may be important in the next book, and is being introduced here for that purpose. A minor issue in what has definitely been some of the best pure science fiction I have read in a long while.
A story set in the near future but strong in elements from folk tale and mythology.
A world made uninhabitable by pesticides and dirty bombs, genetically-engineered crops and pollution, and within this world, the inevitable division of human society into classes, factions, revolutionaries and those who turn their back on society. A world where science is both savior and slayer. This is the world David Sparks wakes into, to be immediately threatened by a man with a chain saw.
The story, while set in the near future, is strong in elements from folk tale and mythology: the dangerous wild wood, the wise hermit, the ‘wizards’ who abuse their power; the glass castle where food is abundant; the concept of the sacred twins. Rich in world-building, asking questions about the limits of science and the definition of humanity, The Unfortunate Expiration of Mr David S. Sparks follows the protagonist’s physical and intellectual journeys to understand the world he is in – and who he is.
Is the book successful in delineating these quests? Perhaps not entirely. World-building takes precedence over character-building, and there are times when too much information is handed to the reader in a chunk of exposition. There are enough hints leading to the climax to keep a reader wondering if they’ve worked the story out or not, and the overall idea is compelling.
D C Wright-Hammer on the genesis of Between Two MInds: Awakening
Between Two Minds: Awakening was the culmination of a lot of personal experiences. Nearly five years ago, I was working as a data migration specialist, and I had some serious health issues. I subconsciously blended my job and my condition, and I thought, “What if my mind is still good but my body isn’t? What if minds could be digitized and migrated, so to speak, into healthy bodies?” While the reality transferring consciousness (or mind migration as I call it) isn’t so simple, it’s been theorized for hundreds of years. Descartes’ Evil Demon thought experiment (and Harman’s updated ‘brain in the vat’ model) posited that a person’s mind could be manipulated by an omnipotent demon (or supercomputer) that could simulate your experiences. This includes your body (or the one you perceive to be in) as well as all external stimuli. As the experiment goes, a mind would have no way of knowing whether you truly exist in a world or a simulation. This was the basis for “The Matrix” series. Descartes is quoted in Latin, “dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum” or in English, “I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.” People often forget “doubt” in the phrase, and I think it’s very important. The ability to doubt our own existence is proof that we exist.
With that in mind, I wanted to take the concept of mind migration a little more seriously. I wanted to make it believable. It was then that I began melding my personal experiences, the philosophy, and the fiction into a science fiction thriller. Set in the near future, Ryan D. Carter (a play on Rene Descartes) is a paraplegic who has always dreamed of walking. He orders this mind migration, a common but expensive procedure in his time, and he gets his mind uploaded into a physically fit body. It was here that I knew I wanted things to go wrong for Ryan. Every advancement in technology can bring about side effects. Add in corporate interests, money, and nefarious characters jockeying for power, and you have a situation ripe for disaster. But sometimes disaster isn’t so obvious. I wanted Ryan’s, and by extension, the reader’s experience to be subtle.
To that end, I tell the story from the first person past tense POV to make it more personal to the reader. Eventually, an interleaved or zippered narrative is established where the reader is given a compelling back and forth between Ryan’s experiences and that of another main character. Details from both perspectives give clues to where the story is going, but even the most adept readers will have difficulty predicting the plot twists at the end. And yet most readers swear that the finale is very satisfying. Can Ryan solve the puzzle unraveling in his new brain before it’s too late? Or does he suffer the consequences of being between two minds?
Are we our bodies, or our minds? A philosophical question explored by many writers over time, with most believing our truest selves lie in our thoughts, not the physical shell that houses them. Believing this, would you risk leaving behind an imperfect body to migrate your mind to a new one?
Ryan, the protagonist of Between Two Minds: Awakening does exactly that, exchanging his paraplegic physical self for a new body. The process is touted as almost problem-free, safe and effective. But Ryan experiences strange side effects – or are they? Or is there really another mind inhabiting his new body?
As Ryan searches for answers, he finds more questions: what is the connection between this other consciousness and himself? The line between his life and his co-consciousness blurs: who is real? What is real? Whose memories can be trusted?
The premise of Between Two Minds: Awakening is not new (few premises are) but Wright-Hammer’s interleaving of two stories, chapter by chapter, effectively brings the reader into each character’s wildly differing worlds, inciting in the reader the desire to keep reading to work out how the two will come together. Without spoilers, my advice is to read carefully, because apparently insignificant things will prove to be important as the story moves towards its climax.
I’m giving the book four stars, not five, from the cumulative effect of a number of small things that jarred: dialogue that didn’t ring true, some awkward transitions, a few continuity questions. There are a lot of small details, perhaps too many for some readers, but a writer cannot hide items of significance in a narrative if they stand out as obvious! The overall story kept me interested and trying to guess where it was going (I didn’t) and that tells me the author has done his job. It would make a compelling movie!
Imagine you are an empath, capable of feeling – physically and emotionally – what others feel. Imagine that when you touch someone, their thoughts and memories may pass to you in a flash of colour. Imagine not knowing if the things you know, the things that drive you, the things you desire, are yours – or someone else’s.
Tessa, the protagonist of Dawn Hosmer’s debut novel, is an unsurprisingly troubled and withdrawn woman, trying to cope with her personal reality. Her family have treated her as mentally ill, shunting her off to institutions for treatment. She relies on her therapist and one brother to support her – until she meets a charming professor in her college town, and feels an immediate connection.
But Jonas has his own secrets, and as it becomes clear there is a serial rapist and murdered stalking young women, Tessa is drawn into the search for the killer – with devastating personal results. If I could say nothing else about Bits & Pieces, I would laud the author’s bravery and strength in addressing a difficult and horrifying subject in such a gutsy and unexpected manner.
For the most part, Bits & Pieces is a satisfyingly well-written novel, the language clear and clean, the dialogue believable. Hosmer handles the descriptions of violence well, evoking the characters’ terror without dwelling on too much detail, but not leaving everything to the reader’s imagination. The action rises and falls it grows towards the climax, and Tessa’s confusion and growing disorientation are conveyed effectively.
What happens in the denouement, however, I found less satisfying: a twist in the story that has a role in terms of character development, but that I also found detracted from the shock of the primary narrative, and, by focusing on the twist, took away from the reality of how Tessa deals with what she has experienced. Knowing there is a sequel planned means I’m reserving final judgment on this, because it may have a role in the next book.
4 out of 5 stars for an impressive and unusual debut. Bits & Pieces is available from Amazon. Keep reading to learn what the author has to say about her work!
Dawn, tell us a bit about yourself, and what inspired Bits & Pieces.
I am the mother to four amazing children, a wife, and a lifelong Ohioan. I spent my career in Social Work but have always had a passion for writing and dreamed of one day being a published author. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease fifteen years ago and had to quit working outside of the home a little over two years ago. I now devote myself full-time to writing and marketing.
While Bits & Pieces is a Psychological Thriller, I have not yet found one genre to call home. I enjoy writing suspense, thrillers and contemporary fiction. All of my work has several things in common, however. I like to dive deep into the psyche of my characters to explore their emotions and thoughts on the events happening around them. My tagline is Exploring The Mind, One Book at a Time. It perfectly sums up what I attempt to do in my writing. Because I write with such a deep Point of View, I tend to write in first person. My goal with writing is to also explore the many gray areas of life because no one is all good or all bad just as no experience is either. I also dive into rather dark themes in most of my work, not because I’m a fan of the macabre; rather, because life is full of difficult things. Through my years in social work, I’ve seen countless times how the resilience of the human spirit is stronger than the hard situations people must deal with. In addition, my ideas are usually inspired by true stories. Part of the inspiration for Bits & Pieces came to me when my son was a freshman in college. A female student went missing and was later found murdered. Her killer was linked to several other rapes and murders in the area. I tend to process events that frighten me or create anxiety through writing about them. It helps me feel a sense of control over situations that I am powerless over.
I was asked recently what I hope readers gain from my books. My goal as an author is to give my readers a place to escape the real world, and all of its demands, for a while. Life is hard. For me, nothing rejuvenates me like losing myself in a good book. I want my books to be that place of renewal for those who read them. Even though they often cover such dark and heavy topics, I try to always instill a sense of hope, forgiveness and/or redemption.
My next book, The End of Echoes, is contemporary fiction and will be published late summer 2019.
As humans, we assume the way we think is the only way people can think. We see this over and over again, even in intraspecies relationships. When someone perceives the world differently, we view them as “weird” or “abnormal” or “different.” In extreme cases, we take our pitchforks and chase them out of town . . . or we engage in even worse violence.
Yet the arrogance of our brains to believe the way we think is the only way to think. Just consider the diversity of people across the planet, and the millions of ways a person might answer the question, “what is good?” Even within the American culture, that question doesn’t have an answer. When we explore the perspectives of the thousands of religions, cultures, and ethos of the world . . . the possibilities are endless.
So humans have millions of ways to view the world. Millions of ways to approach problems. Yet those approaches are fundamentally constrained by the way the brain works. We’re products of evolution; we can only see the world with two eyes, hear sounds with two ears, taste with one tongue. Imagine how evolution could have produced a different mind.
Then what would happen if we developed a different mind. An artificial one, inspired by the way we think, yet fundamentally its own creature.
In First of Their Kind, I explore what it would mean for humanity to create a conscious, thinking, non-programmed mind. I call it synthetic intelligence, because it is distinctly different from what we traditionally consider “artificial” intelligence. Whether in literature or our cultural zeitgeist, we always think of A.I. as a computer program, designed for sapience and capable of thought on levels unimaginable. You see it in Terminator, I, Robot, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and countless other films.
Often, these A.I. are terrifying beings; when they reach their moment of omniscience, they transform into a monster that the human protagonist must defeat.
I propose an alternative take on intelligence. On consciousness. Instead of a program, what if we could create a synthetic brain, a construct capable of producing thought similar to that of a human? Modern AI research is exploring this type of mind, so it’s not too far-fetched.
In First of Their Kind, I call the “synthetic brain” a “Synthetic Neural Framework.” Composed of materials capable of mimicking neurons, the molecules connect and form pathways naturally through perceptions attained through sensory inputs, just like an animal. The Synthetic Neural Framework is the backbone of Synthetic Intelligence, and it forms the mind of my main character: “Test Forty-Three.” You’ll need to read the book to find out what name they choose for themself!
I challenge you to consider, when reading First of Their Kind—what thoughts, what perceptions, what conceptions about the world could this Framework have that humans could not? At the core, I’m endeavoring to answer that question in First of Their Kind and its sequels.
Some readers will empathize with “Test Forty-Three,” others will not. But I challenge everyone to consider why they do or do not connect with a mind fundamentally different from their own. Is a Synthetic Intelligence’s vision of morality really that different than a human who lives halfway across the globe, when compared to your own?
Test Forty-Three just wants a place within humanity too, just like the rest of us. They want friends. They want family. They might think differently, but they deserve love just like the people who created them.