Saturday, 17 March 2018

New Release: Silent Terrorism: Saudi Arabia by Phetra H. Novak

Author: Phetra H. Novak
Language: English
Published: 17th March, 2018
Length: 78,000 words (approx).
ISBN: Paperback: 978-1-78645-184-2
eBook: 978-1-78645-185-9
ASIN: B07B298C5F
Category: Fiction
Genre: LGBT, Romance and Relationships, Political, Contemporary Fiction, Thriller.

Early morning, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Swedish correspondent cameraman Ebbe Skoog is out getting shots for an upcoming story and stumbles upon something he isn't supposed to see. On a building site, on the outskirts of the city, four men looking a lot like the Mabahith - the secret police - are sending a bound man to a certain death by stoning.

With camera still rolling, Ebbe begins to retreat when a second man enters the scene and throws himself on top of the dying man, shielding him with his body, soothing with loving words. Ebbe's reaction is immediate. Clutching his camera, he drags the screaming lover out of the rain of stones and in a storm of sand, they flee into the brutal uncertainty of the desert.

Correspondent reporter Mattis Andersson is the wild card, the rebel. He's also Ebbe's only hope of getting out alive with his new companion, Aasim El-Batal, and the memory card holding the footage that will make Saudia Arabia burn in the eyes of human rights activists the world over.

With their past as lovers, and their present as colleagues and best friends who would take a bullet for each other, it now falls on Mattis to protect his and Ebbe's future. But the Swedish government wants to silence them, unwilling to jeopardize years of lucrative weapons deals for "some petty gay love affair." It's an impossible mission that will draw on every strength the two men possess.


Editor's Review:
I love my job. Like any job, there are times when it can be a bit of a battle of endurance. Looming deadlines, sticking to schedules and having to work when I'm sick because there's no-one to pick up the slack can take their toll. But since I started Beaten Track Publishing, I wake up looking forward to what every single day has in store.

In a way, it's like having a library of my favourite books at my fingertips with a permanent excuse of 'I need to read this...for work'. I publish the books I want to read/would have wanted to read when I was younger, and refusing to bend to the sway of the market gives Beaten Track immense freedom. It's risky; there are books in our catalogue which sell very few copies and don't financially compensate for the time taken to get them 'out there'. But all of our books are important in some way or other.

Many have tremendous cultural/social/political importance. They're not always the books I would choose to read for pleasure because, being a bit of an escapist wimp and all. In my personal reading, I generally steer clear of horror and thrillers, largely because they tend to be driven more by plot than character, and I'm a natural psychologist. There is nothing I love more than everyday explorations of the human psyche.

It takes a very skilled author to write a story that is strong on both plot and character development. Silent Terrorism is the latest of Phetra H. Novak's novels and showcases her incredible ability in this regard. It's a tough read, dealing with the uglier aspects of human existence, specifically: how the political elite turn a blind eye against atrocities committed by other members of the elite if it's in their interests to do so.

Silent Terrorism is the story of a few brave men fighting for justice, fighting for their lives, and through the events that unfold, we follow their distinct yet intertwined journeys towards the same goal. There are very few female characters, but as most of the novel takes place in Saudi Arabia, this is to be expected. The women we do meet hold powerful positions in Western society, and their portrayal is too complex (and would spoil too much of the plot) to explore in this review. All of the characters are flawed, some more so than others, in some cases irredeemibly.

At the heart of it all, is Ebbe Skoog, our 'hero' in the truest sense of the word, whose every action is underpinned by an extraordinary (and dangerous) belief in justice. I can't say I enjoyed his journey, but I admired his strength and determination, and I never once stopped rooting for him. As for his partner Mattis...well, he certainly doesn't have Ebbe's quiet fortitude, but I appreciated his brash, say-it-like-it-is approach. It's vital to the rescue mission, as well as delivering brief moments of humorous respite, like flares of colour and hope in the desolate desert landscape of this novel.

Politically, Silent Terrorism tackles the complexities of international relations between cultures that share little common ground, even outside of the big human rights debates. Yet there is no dichotomy of West vs East, Good vs Evil. Instead, we encounter a detailed exploration of these issues through the events that unfold and the responses of the agencies involved in trying to get Ebbe and Aasim out of Saudi Arabia.

All in all, this is not a 'nice' read, but it's a damned good one - thought-provoking, emotional, devastating in places, but trust the author. Phetra ensures us safe passage to the other side.

50% of the proceeds of this book goes to Colin Stewart and Erasing 76 Crimes.

Silent Terrorism is a political thriller by Phetra H. Novak, and is available in paperback and ebook formats from Beaten Track Publishing and all the usual places.


Purchase Links:
Beaten Track Store:

Other Vendors:


About the Author:
Phetra often refers to herself as the odd man out, the dorky book nerd. She'd rather spend time with a good book or making up fantastic stories with even more fantastic characters, than live in the real world, dealing with real people.

The real world is strange, in a very non-humorous way, and people in it complicate it to the point of wearing you out. In the written word world, whether it's someone else's words or her own, things might get busy, complicated, and even downright painful, but somewhere along the line, a hero's always on the horizon. He's probably not a prim and proper, church-going pretty-boy since the author prefers rebellious men and women who don't follow the protocols of society.

One of her favorite sayings is that 'Only dead fish follow the stream,' and well she ain't no dead fish.

Phetra lives with her family - two children, a domestic partner, and their two cats in Gothenburg, Sweden. When reading her books, you'll notice she always finds a way to bring her own culture into her stories.

The joy of reading and writing comes from her childhood and is something she has always loved, and been passionate to share with others. Phetra loves hearing from her readers, even with ideas of what they'd like to come next.

If you are looking for her, the best place to start looking is at home in the quietest corner of the house, where she'll be curled up with either her Kindle, reading or with her laptop typing away.


Thursday, 1 March 2018

New Release: Closer by F.E. Feeley Jr.

Author: F.E. Feeley Jr.
Language: English
Published: 1st March, 2018
Length: 117,000 words (approx).
ISBN: Paperback: 978-1-78645-186-6
eBook: 978-1-78645-187-3
Category: Fiction
Genre: LGBT, Horror, Supernatural

Maplewood, Vermont is a picturesque town filled with unique shops, unique homes, and a quaint familiarity all centered around a lake with an unusual history.

Legends, old as well as Urban, float around like the mist that hovers above the lake at break of dawn.

But they're just stories, right?

Hayden Moore's life was destroyed when his husband, Malcolm, was murdered. Giving up his job as an assistant district attorney in Boston, Hayden moved to the little burg of Maplewood to recover.

A new life.

A fresh start.

However, something underneath the water is stirring. Something rotten. A deadly secret wakes underneath the black waters of Lake Veronica so disturbing it haunts the nightmares of the local residents.

It's coming closer...


Editor's Review:
March 1st, 2018 sees the release of Closer - a spectacular supernatural thriller from F.E. Feeley Jr. - not his first novel by a long shot, but the first of (hopefully) many published with Beaten Track.

The setting of the story is Maplewood, a town in Vermont - rural, picturesque, with woods, a lake and lots of touristy things to do. It's a vacation spot, and seemingly the perfect place for Hayden (our sort-of protagonist) to relocate after his husband's murder.

I say 'sort-of' protagonist because there is a small band of characters at the heart of this story, but Hayden gets a little more on-page time for reasons that become apparent as events unfold.

There's also some romance in store - what the author calls 'romance with a small r', and I agree with that. The relationships that bud are not limited to romance; friendships feature strongly, as does family, and some of the secondary characters are a real delight (Mr. and Mrs. Hatch, for instance).

The richly described setting and often flawed characters create a stunning backdrop to the supernatural element, and we, the readers, are treated to insights that the characters do not yet have. Indeed, the novel begins with the retelling of the events from the distant past, some of which are known to the people of Maplewood.

This is the beauty of the omniscient narrator; they  share details with the reader, drawing us into the inner circle. It works especially well in thrillers, putting us in a state of suspense, waiting for the 'jump scare', while the character remains blissfully unaware. I must confess, I found myself muttering 'Don't do it! Don't go in there!' a good few times while editing.

That said, it would be a pretty naff story if we knew everything from the beginning, so readers can expect a few twists and turns on the journey - a happy ending for many in relationship terms, a solid conclusion to the main arc, and an intriguing hook for the next novel.

Closer by F.E. Feeley Jr. is available in paperback and ebook formats from Beaten Track Publishing and all the usual places.


Purchase Links:
Beaten Track Store:

Other Vendors:


About the Author:
F.E. Feeley Jr is a poet and the author of six published works - four full length novels, two short stories featured in anthologies, and a good deal of poetry.

Married to the love of his life, John, he came to the writing world about four years ago where he fell in love, again, with the written word.


Thursday, 28 December 2017

Indie publishing, marketing and aftercare

Before I go any further...I'm NOT an expert in marketing. In fact, like most authors, I kind of hate marketing, but I've now spent five and a half years working with other authors to get their books 'out there' as well as publishing my own books, and I have a few observations I think are worth sharing.

Note: these are my observations and reflections, not facts. Mainly, I'm going to talk about aftercare for your book: what happens after it's released.

What works?
Isn't that the million-dollar question? Who knows? There are quite a few strategies that might work, but there's also a certain amount of serendipity involved. Hitting the market with the right release at the right time...having an eye-catching cover (good or bad) and a great blurb...catching the interest of a chatty readership who will spread the away the first book in a series, video trailers...paying a PR company...

It all works - sometimes. It might work once and never again, and once might actually be enough to gain traction. But it might not work at all.

The bottom line is, I don't know what will work for you. There are hundreds of blog posts (and courses, and experts who'll charge you money for their knowledge) out there with suggestions for authors on how to get their books selling. My suggestion: try anything. Try everything you can afford. Even if you only try it once and decide it's not worth the bother or you hate it so much you'd rather give up writing than do it again, if you want to sell books, you lose nothing by giving it a go.

What I can tell you is what doesn't work, and this is a repeating pattern I've seen in the way authors go about their work. However, I'll frame it as what you should do.

The marketing happens before and after release
It's not entirely our fault that we neglect the aftercare of our books. The ebook market has borrowed from the music industry, where everything is a build-up to release day and trying to get the single into a high chart position. And, like the music industry, if our book doesn't chart highly (on Amazon), we assume we've missed our chance.

We need to remember that's only our book's first chance. So, yes, do the pre-release blitz - cover reveals, excerpts, blog tours, giveaways, spamming social networks (meaningfully - add some variety to your posts), but remember it's only step one.

Be a market trader
Then, on release day, switch to the market trader model. You've got a product to sell, right there in your (virtual) hand, and irrespective of how many people caught your exhausting pre-release marketing, there are still millions of potential readers who know nothing about you or your book.

Interact online and offline
Social networks move very quickly, and algorithms work against us. If you're tech savvy, you can probably work around these to a certain extent. If you're rich, you can buy space and prominence. But you don't need money to plug your book. You do need some time, though, and perseverance.

Share excerpts. Interview characters on your blog or podcast. Don't have those? Set them up! Talk about your book until people flee when they see you coming. Go into bookshops, talk to your local paper, radio station - anything you do is better than doing what we authors usually do, which is dropping that book like a hot spud on release day and moving on to the next one.

Love your readers
Interact with readers - positively, professionally. Reply to emails from fans. Have a friendly online persona.

(But don't engage with those who leave reviews you don't like, or bad-mouth them in 'public'.)

One of the most successful ways to sell is by word of mouth. Fans are friends, and food.

In summary:
Giving your book good aftercare and a varied diet, in my experience, increases sales.

But what if...?
However, if your book still isn't selling, you've got a few choices ahead of you.

Keep plugging away
I can't say how long is a decent time to do this before it's 'flogging a dead horse', but it can be measured in months, minimum. While social networks move at lightning speed, the users of said networks don't, and there are also other factors involved in how people use them.

Know your readership and where to find them
I check Twitter perhaps four days out of seven, LinkedIn once a month, Instagram hardly ever and I've never even logged in to WhatsApp. I do visit Facebook and Goodreads frequently, though. Meanwhile, my daughter never visits Goodreads, Twitter or LinkedIn, but she's constantly on Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp. My mum uses Facebook and nothing else. My husband is neurologically wired to Facebook (or so it seems) and watches a lot of YouTube videos.

I'm not suggesting my family reflects the typical use of the various networks by different ages and genders, but there are differences, and these are worth considering while you're plugging away. Who is your target readership? Which networks do they use and when? It's worth doing a bit of research so you can more accurately target your marketing.

(Don't) Give up
There are some authors who do give up after book one (or even further down the line), and it's not a wrong decision if it's right for you. I don't write for money, so failing to sell will never lead me to giving up, but some authors do only write in the hope of making money out of it.

To be absolutely brutal about this, the publishing market is so saturated, the chance of making even a living out of writing is slim at best. I'm not saying it's impossible, but the odds are, you won't, and even if you do hit a 'bestseller' with one release, you're still playing the market for each subsequent release.

Start over with each new book
If your book does chart well on release day, great. But don't sit back and expect it to continue. You need to keep those sales coming in, and not just for this book.

As you write more and add to your catalogue, you'll become a juggler, trying to keep all of the balls in the air. Each new book requires the same attention - before and after release - but take care not to drop the book before it.

This is where back matter...matters. Make sure your readers can find your other work via links at the end of your book. Keep your list of publications current on your website/blog. It needs to be really easy for readers to find you and your books, because you are one of millions of stars in the sky. You need to be the brightest.

Move on
Work on your next book, satisfied you have, at the very least, a back catalogue of one darned good book, because you're going to do this all over again, and again.

Final thoughts...
I'm not a bestseller. I have been a bestseller, and I'm still selling books because of that one book that happened to catch the market at the right time. It can be disheartening, both looking at my own sales and seeing other authors question if it's worth continuing. That's a decision each of us has to weigh up for ourselves. Part of that process involves being honest about whether we really gave it our best shot.

About the author
Debbie McGowan is an award-winning author of contemporary fiction that celebrates life, love and relationships in all their diversity. Since the publication in 2004 of her debut novel, Champagne - based on a stage show co-written and co-produced with her husband - she has published a further forty-plus works (novels, short stories and novellas). She is the author of two ongoing series: Hiding Behind The Couch (a literary 'soap opera' centring on the lives of nine long-term friends) and Checking Him Out (LGBTQ romance). Debbie has been a finalist in both the Rainbow Awards and the Bisexual Book Awards, and in 2016, she won the Lambda Literary Award (Lammy) for her novel, When Skies Have Fallen: a British historical romance spanning twenty-three years, from the end of WWII to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967. Through her independent publishing company, Debbie gives voice to other authors whose work would be deemed unprofitable by mainstream publishing houses.

Friday, 15 December 2017

New Release: A Love Song for the Sad Man in the White Coat by Roe Horvat

Author: Roe Horvat
Language: English
Published: 15th December, 2017
Length: 63,000 words (approx).
ISBN: Paperback: 978-1-78645-182-8
eBook: 978-1-78645-183-5
Category: Fiction
Genre: LGBT, Romance and Relationships, Health, Family and Lifestyle, Contemporary Fiction

Available on Kindle Unlimited

Simon had always expected love to feel different than this. Whether it was his Catholic upbringing or the poetry he'd read - Simon had thought that true love would be uplifting, fulfilling, that it would give a meaning to his loitering, and add joy to his leisure. But not this kind of love. This love was a flesh-eating monster, sharp-clawed and evil-eyed, ravishing his mind with medieval cruelty.

Dr Simon Mráz is a respected specialist and lecturer at the Charles University in Prague. He is a serious man, responsible. His students call him The Cruel Doctor Frost not because he's unkind, but because of his unwavering, ice-cold composure. As a psychiatrist, he values sanity. And sanity can be found in work, restraint, and self-control.

Not many know of that one time in the past when The Cruel Doctor Frost lost his cool. His ill-advised, secret affair with a student left Simon deeply wounded. Since that day, every minute of Simon's life has been a struggle to remain sane, functioning. He's managed so far - as long as he is needed, as long as his work makes a difference, Simon can scrape together enough strength to get up in the morning and run off the nightmares. But when his friends begin drifting away, his beloved protégé becomes independent, and the man who bereaved Simon of his precious sanity might return... Simon's mind and body stop responding to his impressive willpower.


Editor's Review:
Where does one escape to when the danger is in one's own head? In Simon's case (as for many of us), it's to his work. He's existing, functioning, far from living, and the effect is a 'wordscape' that is perfectly illustrated by the colours of the cover. Simon's world for the most part is shades of grey. The colour...well, we know from the very first chapter where, or indeed, with whom the colour resides.

This novel is dark, and I don't mean full of the gruesome and grisly. It's way cleverer than that - subtler, more real, and for those reasons all the more...scary?

That's not quite the word for it, because we think of 'scary' in relation to books as meaning horror and the supernatural - the stuff that is most definitely of fiction. A Love Song... is far away from those kinds of stories. It's a realist, character-driven narrative, and it stays true to that right through to the very last page, which is to say it has a 'happy' ending, but there are no instant magical fixes here. However, you can trust the author to bring you safely to the other side.



About the Author:
Queer fiction author Roe Horvat was born in the post-communist wasteland of former Czechoslovakia. Equipped with a dark sense of sarcasm, Roe traveled Europe and finally settled in Sweden. They love Jane Austen, Douglas Adams, and daiquiri, with equal passion. When not hiding in the studio doing graphics, Roe can be found trolling cafés in Gothenburg, writing, and people-watching.


Thursday, 7 December 2017

New Release: Never Too Late #anthology #lgbtqia

Author: Caraway Carter, Ofelia Gränd, Hans M Hirschi, Laura Susan Johnson, A.M. Leibowitz, Debbie McGowan, Phetra H. Novak, J P Walker, Alexis Woods Cover Artist: Roe Horvat
Language: English
Published:7th December, 2017
Length: 131,000 words (approx.)
ISBN: Paperback: 978-1-78645-192-7
ePub: 978-1-78645-193-4
ASIN: B077QDWTL5Category: Fiction
Genre: LGBT, History, Romance and Relationships, Political, Women's Fiction, Short Stories, Contemporary Fiction, Family and Friendship

Never Too Late is a collection of nine stories featuring characters over the age of fifty - stories of travel, finding your purpose, of friendships past and present, and of love. Never Too Late brings you to a world where gender sees no borders, where the only way you're identified is by the goodness of your heart.

Trapped by Ofelia Gränd
Ashes and Alms by A.M. Leibowitz
The Palette - A Lifetime by Caraway Carter
Clara by Hans M Hirschi
To Be Sure by Debbie McGowan
Nectar by Laura Susan Johnson
Moving by J P Walker
Cue The Music by Alexis Woods
Ocean of Tears by Phetra H. Novak

Editor's Review:
Before I review each of the stories, I need to say something that I've said many times before. I love my job. I get to work with incredibly talented people who write the kinds of stories I love to read. On this occasion, it's an entire set of stories, all about people aged 50 and over. At 48, I'm nearly there, and I'll be honest; I had some reservations, wondering if we were going to deliver a set of stories bemoaning old age. Needless worry.

This is an exceptional collection of stories, if I do say so myself. They are diverse - in style and in the colours of the LGBTQIA rainbow they each choose to explore. There are poignant moments of sadness and/or horror; there are moments of humour - plenty more of those, I think; there are the tender/passionate moments that readers of romance appreciate; there are moments of reflection - for both us and the characters. Above all, there is much hope and happiness, and every story here ends not necessarily a 'happily ever after' but on a positive note.

It's never too late to make amends, fall in love, rekindle lost friendship, reunite with lovers, family or friends. I'll hand over to fabulous authors at Beaten Track to show you how.

Trapped by Ofelia Gränd
Charlie Wilkins had everything he wanted - a husband, a daughter, a house that was his home. He still has his husband, but William has forgotten who he is. He still has his daughter, but the roles have  switched, and she is now the one taking care of them.

There is only one thing Charlie wants, and that is to spend the rest of his days with William by his side. But William is living in a nursing home, and Charlie is living...somewhere. Ann says she will fix it; she'll make sure they'll get to live together again. Charlie hopes she will before William either escapes or figures out Charlie has left him in someone else's care.

* * * * *

Before I became a teacher (which was before I became a publisher), I worked as a carer - for fifteen years - caring for older people. My first job (well, second - the first one I got sacked from after only a couple of weeks for being late because Queen over-ran on Live Aid) was probably the most challenging of all, because I worked with quite a few old guys like William - one of the three main characters in Trapped.

There was one chap in particular whose wife came to visit every day even though most days he didn't know who she was. Nor did he recognise his carers, but then he'd have these moments of clarity, within which he shared what his life had been like before his dementia. He changed my attitude forever, which was why I stayed in healthcare for such a long time. I loved it; it was hard but so worthwhile. Older people have so much to teach us.

But, alas, when you reach the top of the career ladder and you're still earning minimum wage...I could earn more teaching, and that's the only reason I changed career.

Anyway, that's not really a review of Ofelia Gränd's story, or it is in a round-about way. Trapped is one of those sad-happy/happy-sad stories - I can't quite figure out whether it's tragic or glorious, but in the end I let (completely within my control, honest) a happy tear or two escape for this beautiful, respectful depiction of a very different and incredibly real relationship between two (fairly grouchy) older men.

Ashes & Alms by A.M. Leibowitz
In her teens, Jo spent a summer as a missionary in Chicago. After forty years, two divorces, and a daughter who won't speak to her, a postcard arrives in the mail. Now Jo must decide if she wants to attend a reunion. Going means seeing the woman she once loved and finding out if all they had was one summer or if there's a chance to start over. It also means facing the other women on her team. Maybe it's time for Jo to reconcile all her broken relationships.

* * * * *

Well, I may as well continue with the 'been there, done that' theme. I used to be 'churchified', but for various reasons, I was pushed out of the church. A year or so ago, there was a reunion of sorts, which I didn't attend's complicated. Short, simple version: many church people are judgemental hypocrites, and while I'm no saint, I don't need their judgy fingers wagging at me.

But then there are the friendships I lost, and I miss being a part of something. I miss going to church (except on damp, miserable Sunday mornings), but like Jo in Ashes & Alms, I'm torn between facing the friends that became adversaries and knowing I'm just fine - maybe better - leaving all of that far behind me.

There were a lot of parallels between my life and Jo's, and I sense other readers with very different life experiences will also find this - not just with Ashes & Alms, but with any of A.M. Leibowitz's stories. The characters are very real and face the same challenges - the little niggles and the epic traumas - we all face.

What I especially enjoyed were the tense moments later in the story, all the show and facade and the waiting. It could've gone either way, and I read tight-lipped with a tense, slightly hysterical giggle in the back of my throat. And...that's all I'm saying or I'll spoil the story.

The Palette by Caraway Carter
As celebrated artist James Brash finally ties the knot, he looks back on his and husband Roy's fifty-year relationship, as told through The Palette - a rainbow-themed collection of James's art.

OK, I can't do the 'once upon a time, I was an artist' because I suck, epically, at painting, drawing, sketching, pottery...any and all of those things involving hand-to-eye creative coordination. I ain't got it.

* * * * *

I've realised now, having read quite a few of Caraway Carter's stories, that he writes in a kind of tableau form, so 'the palette' is the perfect medium for his storytelling. Each scene in the story is intense with deep, rich tones - a vivid retelling of a significant event that fades and blends before it gives way to the next.

James - the artist at the centre of this story - is honest and emotionally open (I imagine the wine played its part), emotionally indulgent at times (potentially also the wine, but he's an artist, so...goes with the territory, perhaps), and the author does well in keeping the balance between the retrospective inspiration for James's work and the present moment in the story. This all leads to a lovely conclusion that more than makes up for the tragedy James and Roy endured in the past.

Clara by Hans M Hirschi
This is a short story about Clara - best be described as "a Clara" - who one day discovers a tall, elegantly dressed, and thus completely misplaced mystery woman in the local cemetery, standing over a grave that is never visited by anyone. Clara knows because the son of the couple buried there was Clara's best and only friend in childhood.

Will curiosity get the better of Clara that day?

* * * * *

The blurb is spot on - Clara is best be described as 'a Clara' - I have no idea which pronoun to use because Clara is truly non-binary in all respects. I've never found gender categories much use, so that's fine by me, although it's tough to break free of the he/she programming, even for an enby like me.

Hans Hirschi has written a story that is entertaining and touching, yes, but it's also an excellent education in what being genderqueer/non-binary is like for Clara and others. It's a story I'll be recommending to anyone who tells me they don't understand gender beyond male/female. Well, I'll be recommending it to everyone; it goes without saying.

What I also love is that this story - as with others in Never Too Late - illustrates beautifully the different kinds of 'happy ending' that happen later in life, when happiness and success are measured purely by their quality in the moments we're given.

To Be Sure by Debbie McGowan
Saorla Tierney's sons are conspiring against her, and at their age, they should know better. After all, she's nearly seventy-one herself, and, quite frankly, whether she still 'has needs' is none of their business.

OK, so, maybe she was a bit harsh with Sean when all he did was ask if she and Aileen wanted a double hotel room. And of course she feels bad for biting Finn's head off when he was only having a wee joke.

Between her grandson's unconventional baptism and the decades-long feud between her sons, even with Aileen at her side it's not as easy a decision as they seem to think. Or maybe it is. Saorla doesn't know anymore, and until she's sure...

To Be Sure is a stand-alone novella-length character special in the Hiding Behind The Couch series. 

* * * * *

I can't review this one, because it's mine. :) I had fun writing it, though.

Nectar by Laura Susan Johnson
Nectar tells of the atrocities of the Armenian genocide through the story of one young woman's lifetime - the family she lost, the love she found, and her determination to survive.

* * * * *

There is so much I admire about Laura Susan Johnson's writing. She is what I think of as a 'real writer' who doesn't shy away from the hard stuff, and she really works at her craft. I know, from being her editor, that every word is carefully considered, every sentence worked and reworked until it is just right. I love her stories for that, even if at times they cut me to the core.

Nectar is a story of survival and resilience. The narrator - Nedgar - is so brave and strong. The depiction of what she endured and witnessed isn't graphic, but it's enough to understand the horrors of the Armenian genocide - something I knew nothing about prior to reading this story. Many of us won't, because history forgets, moves on, gets subsumed under further atrocities.

It makes this an important story - an opportunity to learn so that one day we can stop saying 'we must never let this happen again'. Nectar is also a beautifully written story - literary - and should be read for that reason too, with the forewarning that it deals with events some (most) readers will find difficult.

Moving by J P Walker
How would you react if your first great love died? Would you get lost in the past? Or would you embrace your present and future?

When Maggie Fairway finds out Jane - her first great love - has passed away, she quickly becomes caught up in memories of their short yet passionate time together and loses sight of the present - the wonderful life she shares with her wife Jo and their children.

Can Maggie let go of the past before it irrevocably damages their relationship?

* * * * *

Poor Maggie. When faced with the news that someone who was important to us has passed away, particularly when our time with them didn't end well, it's easy to get caught up in reminiscing. For Maggie, it's the loss of her first love, which sparks memories of their incredibly passionate relationship.

I must admit I didn't really like Jane. She was a bit too bolshy for me, but I could see how Maggie fell for her, and how she falls for her again in her grief. First love is profound, perhaps because it happens for most of us when we're relatively young, and we only ever move away from it. It's still always there. To see Maggie trying to recapture the excitement and's devastating, because she's acting on her loss and in so doing risks losing more - losing everything.

The intimate scenes are perfect explorations of the two different relationships, and I can't really say more than that without giving it all away, but there's enough in here to steam up your varifocals. ;)

Cue The Music by Alexis Woods
Every relationship has had it at some point. The singular argument that escalates, that lingers. More often than not, the couple finds their way back to status quo. But what happens when they don't? What happens when one gives up?

After months of trying to resolve their issues, Ty loses hope. He leaves, with only his music to keep him company. Until one day, he feels someone watching him intently from the bar. Maybe, just maybe, Ty won't end up alone after all.

Cue the Music is a stand-alone short story in the Southern Jersey Shores series.

* * * * *

I've got a real soft spot for series where the main characters from previous stories crop up in passing - I go completely Buddy from Elf - 'I know him!' This happens very naturally in the Southern Jersey Shores series (of which Cue the Music is #5), as if this is a gang of guys I see whenever I drink in a particular bar. It's very welcoming, comforting even.

I also have a soft spot for musicians. :) I love the way the music is woven into this story - I imagine we all have songs that are significant to our relationship, the meaning of which can change drastically when things go awry. Including YouTube links to the songs is an excellent touch, like scratch 'n' sniff except it's read 'n' listen - for that full immersion experience.

There are some intense moments in this story, mixed with some dry humour, and while it's a short story (the shortest in the series, I think), it feels complete - not quite a happy-ever-after, but hopefully on the way to one. Until I meet these guys again in #6 and beyond (...) I'm satisfied they'll do OK.

Ocean of Tears by Phetra H. Novak
Karl Meeke - the talented guitarist of Manchester's own pride and joy, Ocean of Tears - is depressed. It's not a word he would usually use for himself, but lately, he's feeling worse. A lot worse. Over the past few months, the music that has been a constant sound inside of him hasn't just grown quieter; it's fallen silent. The love of his life has abandoned him, and at the prime age of fifty-three, he feels like it's all downhill from here. That is, until he meets the young and vibrant Noa.

Noa is attending the Northern School of Ballet in Manchester; his dream is to become a ballerino for the London Royal Ballet. Noa dances into Karl's life from nowhere, and even when Karl shows no interest, Noa will not let him go. Instead, he finds a way to nestle into that lonely slot in Karl's heart, where music once lived, and makes a home there.

Only when things start to change, for the better, does Karl realise what it all means, and by then, he's so far into the deep end he has no choice but to start swimming.

* * * * *

It's not a spoiler if it's in the blurb, so I can say that I've never laughed so much reading a story about someone dealing with depression. Oh, I'm not heartless. In fact, I empathise with Karl a great deal. The music - his life blood - is silent, and he has an epic case of 'can't be arsed'. Which is, of course, Noa's cue to arrive on the scene.

In short, this is not some bleak tour of misery and dreary middle age. It's not about Karl reliving his youth through a relationship with a younger man. Karl knows who he is and accepts it, even if it takes him a while to work through what I know are real concerns for the older partners in relationships with a significant age difference.

Noa, with his relentless cheeriness, is exactly the person for Karl, I have no doubt, although he'd drive me nuts. And Karl's bandmates are awesome - their banter had me in stitches and also left me with a warm feeling of reassurance that if Karl has another bad do of it, he's got lots of great people around to support him.

Friday, 1 December 2017

New Release: Nobody's Butterfly by Claire Davis and Al Stewart

Title: Nobody's Butterfly
Author: Claire Davis and Al Stewart
Cover Artist: Amy Spector
Language: English
Published:1st December, 2017
Length: 20,000 words (approx.)
ISBN: 978-1-78645-191-0
Category: Fiction
Genre: Young Adult, LGBT, Romance and Relationships, Short Stories, Contemporary Fiction, Holidays and Celebrations

Cobweb ghosts are inconvenient - especially grumpy ones with bad breath. Don't they know silence is golden?

Johnny Strong is the expert; he hasn't spoken in two years. Not one word to anyone except the ghost. The main purpose of life is to avoid people and being noticed. Friends? He doesn't need them; and certainly nobody wants him despite what the ghost says.

Until a new boy appears - Finn Lyons, teenage wizard. He eats frogs, concocts potions, and is always hungry. Not only does Finn stand up for Johnny; he actively seeks his company and soon becomes part of life.

First love; family and words; a heady mix to go in the potion but how will it all turn out?

Hubble bubble; Johnny Strong's in trouble! Silence is not always golden in this sweet, zany story of the purest magic at Christmas.

Editor's Review:
I've rewritten this review twice already - far many more times than that in my head. I think this happens when something is important to you. Survival mode kicks in and you think...I really shouldn't share this with the rest of the world. It's a bit like when cats bury their poop - not to hide it from predators, but so they don't challenge more dominant cats.

I'm not going to share the personal reasons why Nobody's Butterfly is important; what I will say is what other readers have said: I wish there had been stories like this when I was an adolescent. I'll also admit that I cried many tears as I edited, and when I went back and read it again. And I'll read it again.

My tears were not because the story is sad or 'angsty'. I despise the use of the word 'angst' in relation to young adults. It makes their problems sound petty and irrelevant when they're not, especially for young adults like Johnny and Finn - the central characters in Nobody's Butterfly. In England alone, there are 17,000 young people like Johnny and Finn. I can't even comprehend that figure.

I'd say my tears were 50% desperation (Johnny's - I felt all of it) and 50% relief that something good came out of it. That's the wonder of fiction - the possibility of a happy ending, not only in the story we're reading - Nobody's Butterfly has a wonderful conclusion - but that we can make those happy endings happen for real. And we can.

We still need more stories written for young adults - really for young adults. It's not about the age of the characters, nor the omission of explicit content. It's about power and empowerment. Young adult fiction needs to empower young adults and portray the world through their eyes. It takes a great deal of skill to do that as an adult author, no matter that we were all young adults once.

Claire Davis and Al Stewart have those skills by the bucket load. Nobody's Butterfly delves into some of the uglier things young people have to deal with, most of which come from adults exercising their power over adolescents and children. That's the way society is set up - those over the age of 18 are automatically responsible for those under the age of 18, and a lot of adults confuse responsibility with power. The trouble is, how do we make them understand?

Putting power in young people's hands means not turning a blind eye or assuming we understand, not imposing our own agenda. It's hard, especially for anyone working with young people. Targets, evidence, policies, procedures...the paperwork is worse than pointless; it's counterproductive because it stops us doing our job - to teach, to care. To listen.

I can't put into words how much I love this story - for its magic, its wonderful fuzzy happy Christmas-ness, and for how brilliantly it illustrates what can happen when a young adult speaks up and for once someone takes notice. Our responsibility as adults is not always to fix problems, but to stand by, just in case, while young adults fix those problems for themselves. That's empowerment.

Nobody's Butterfly is a novella by Claire Davis and Al Stewart, released 1st December, 2017.

Monday, 30 October 2017