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Radium Girls
Radium Girls
by Amanda Gowin
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.92

5.0 out of 5 stars Pretty in Pink, 3 Jun 2014
This review is from: Radium Girls (Paperback)
Radium Girls is the debut collection of shorts from Amanda Gowin. That needed saying first off, because as soon as you begin this book, you slowly forget it’s a collection of stories, and it becomes more a journey through amazingly crafted lives that are connected by a profound need to be coupled. And I don’t mean “coupled” in a romantic way either, but more in a need to be connected to another person - emotionally, spiritually, sexually, or hopelessly. This not Mills and Boon. There is no place in these pages for Zooey Deschanel acting all cutesy and innocent. This is life laid out in its raw and natural state. In these pages, Gowin has stripped away the skin and flesh of everything we have known and exposed the fetid marrow of life that runs through us all.

“Lies are more plausible in a shadowless world.”

There are 15 stories in total, which for a short story collection doesn’t seem much. But a large chunk of that is spent on the novella Pink Manatee. This is the jewel in the crown and my favourite in the collection. It tells the story of Bridget, a sort of ACME witch come spiritual guider for many of the patients in a mental institution, where she too is residing and receiving treatment. Bridget buries many things, likes dolls for the woman who lost her child, or poetry for the man with the stammer. These are acts born of hope. Bridget believes that there is no harm with offering hope, or herself, it makes someone’s life more bearable. And it’s this self-sacrifice that extends beyond the perimeter walls of the institution to Eddie, her ex-room mate’s brother. Eddie likes to pick Bridget up on day release in his El Camino and drive into the suburban belly of the underworld to do some dodgy deals. Eddie has a girlfriend. Eddie is bad. But beholden by her own beliefs, this moment of freedom and adventure is the only consent Bridget needs to be the accomplice, and bed-partner. When Eddie needs to sell some stolen radios and pulls Bridget along for the ride, she meets a fence called Max, part Street Car Brando and part David in The Lost Boys. If you want love, then here it is, but be warned, this not conventional. All schematics, blueprints and templates have been ripped up. And this is where Gowin shines. Max and Bridget’s relationship is damaged, desperate, animal and yet perfect in construction. Blistering and slick dialogue pierces through the two, and that vulnerable edge we all have is the thread that pulls this all together. The detail that Gowin puts into these scenes is nothing sort of inspiring. As a writer, I felt myself sweating, and contracting, and wishing for one moment I could see the world and all its little flaws through Gowin’s eyes.

“Looking into his palm is reading MAD magazine – a gorgeous combination of lies, satire, and flexible half-truths; on every whorl of sandpaper callous Eddie is etched.”

But the real genius of Pink Manatee is the way Gowin has balanced that torrid and unpredictable world beyond the institution with the procedural, controlled, and at times, more desperate world within. Beautifully flawed characters revolve around Bridget, and it’s sometimes within these moments you find true sadness. Amy, Gerald, Charlotte, these are real people. These stories exists. And what cleaves is not the want for the cracks to heal in the lives of all these people, but for you to crawl down each to see how deep they go. There are some really tender and magical moments within the institution that offset the dark, sweltering intensity of the outside world. Here we see the desperation of the mind played out, and the family union of broken characters.

Pink Manatee could easily have been released as a book, but the brood spawned by Gowin’s mind serve as reminders there is much more from Gowin in the future. The shorter pieces are dream-like in construction, some more abstract, some more poetic in design. There are zombies, twins, addicts, Pomeranians, the moon, clocks and all the tiny pieces of life we overlook. Gowin is the tornado, lifting the flotsam of society and spinning it around and around until it lands just South of Kansas where magic and colour is just beyond their reach. There is no yellow brick road in Gowin’s world, only the brittle shards of broken dreams to walk upon. It’s a sad, and at times, a difficult journey to undertake, but I can promise you this, by the end you’ll want to live every step over and over again.


Bald New World
Bald New World
by Peter Tieryas Liu
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.47

5.0 out of 5 stars Cutting Edge, 2 Jun 2014
This review is from: Bald New World (Paperback)
Tieryas's Bald New World begins with a strange phenomenon where the entire population wakes up one day to find all their hair has fallen out. From that moment on you're thrown into a world of espionage, wig-wars, faith-blind zealots that make Marathon Man seem like child's play, telekinetic cricket fighting, and a friendship that stretches beyond life and into death. The world which Tieryas creates is rich in detail, from the grand architecture of the future to the smaller statements on the influence of mass advertising on modern society (I particular liked how a taxi cab fare could be subsidised if you are willing to watch adverts for the entire journey, and the coat that diminishes with the seasons). But like Watering Heaven, Tieryas's brilliant short story collection, the real strength of this book lies is the intertwining themes of acceptance, love and an enduring quest for fulfilment. They say every author writes themselves into the characters of their books. Nick is a character who feels detached emotionally due to his past, and yet through his in laws he truly understands the meaning of family. I mention this because it adds a layer of emotion that fleshes out the character. Nick is not contrived in design, therefore you believe him in, and through all the pain he endures, you want him to survive. This is the test of a great writer, to give a little bit of themselves to the world, even if it's uncomfortable. For this and many other reasons, Tieryas is a great writer.

I don't want to dilute this book by comparing it to another. It stands alone and will measured that way for years to come. The storytelling and amazing detail added from Tieryas's furtive imagination lend themselves perfectly to the silver screen. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see this in the cinema in the next 5 years. A fantastic read for anyone whose frustration in modern literature as reached the point where they're pulling out their hair. There is a new world of great storytelling with us, and that world is bald.


Dr. 2 Issue 1
Dr. 2 Issue 1
Price: 1.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Dr Yes!, 21 Nov 2013
This review is from: Dr. 2 Issue 1 (Kindle Edition)
"More a appetiser than a full meal, Dr. 2 (issue 1) catapults us from Northern Shanghai in 1945 to New York City hundred years later. We're introduced to a forensic doctor that could have been lifted straight out of the Watchman comic. With Trilby and stethoscope the Dr is brought in to examine the mysterious death of a man that has no apparent injuries but looks zombified. Here the puzzle begins to unfurl. The Dr has been requested to examine the body by his old boss The Old Monkey. But why? What's so special about this body that no other dr could have dealt with it?
Chaing does an amazing job in bringing an almost post-apocalyptic New York to its grimy and niory best with some breathtaking illustrations that would leave Frank Miller envious. Bolstered by the ever creative Tieryas Liu's superb writing talent, this comic is sure to prove a modern classic. Well worth the small investment that will leave you champing at the bit for more."


Unaccustomed Mercy
Unaccustomed Mercy
Price: 3.25

3.0 out of 5 stars Heart of Darkness, 15 Jun 2013
Each story in Unaccustomed Mercy reads like a scream that awakes you in the night. There is a beginning, something unnerving that pulls you into the dark underbelly of life, slowly followed by a sense of regret and hopelessness. But there is no end. Instead, what D.B. Cox offers you is a moment, a single action that reverberates in your mind long after it has disappeared.

For this reason, Unaccustomed Mercy is not an easy book to read. If you want stories with resolution, twee and sickly sweet characters that fall in love and live happy lives, then this book is not for you. The strength of this books lies in its desolate landscape that shifts with each character Cox renders so perfectly to the page. The overriding theme throughout each story is redemption, or absolution. Like the man battling with his past, seeking absolution, or a cure to an illness that is rotting him from the inside out, a man so desperate for escape he fantasies of an execution, and the only judge and jury being his father. Or the story of an angel wishing to be mortal, to feel pain because even pain is better than nothing. Or a man sat in bed measuring his life against the life of Jesus, hoping for an answer but getting a shrug from His celestial shoulders instead.

From the man returning to his home before being shot by police, a taxi driver stumbling on his past, a washed out musician who stabs a man in bar, these stories are so dark that at times you need a flashlight to guide your way through each. But that's not to say dark is a bad thing. In the right hands, dark can move you. Darkness makes you think. In darkness, all you have left are your instincts. And this is what Cox is great at, placing you in the palm of that black hand and allowing the fingers to close in around you until you're left hesitant and uneasy.

Cox writes about what he knows, and in that respect I felt Unaccustomed Mercy was a very personal journey. I'm not saying this is autobiographical, but there is the feeling that Cox has drawn heavily on experience, stories and people he has know through his life.

My favourite story came toward the end. It was a quick but beautifully crafted piece about an old man trying to get home. It came in under a page but its brevity was its strength, and so emotive it lasted much longer in my mind than the words given.

Overall, Cox provides an intense exploration into the heart of darkness. Not for everyone but nonetheless, a worthy addition to your collection.


Nod
Nod
by Adrian Barnes
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.39

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sleeping Beauty, 26 Dec 2012
This review is from: Nod (Paperback)
Nod is a novel that only comes around every five to ten years. It takes that long for a writer to create a piece of fiction that actually has something say and is unique. Nod is that book. It tells the tale of Paul who finds himself an unlikely prophet after his manuscript on the etymology of words becomes a surrogate bible to a city who cannot sleep.

Vancouver is the backcloth to this insomnia epidemic, one that has gripped nearly every one of its inhabitants, save for a few individuals, like Paul, who go by the collective noun Sleepers. The Awakened are zombie-like insomniacs shuffling around the city, wanting sleep, slowly going crazy and dying, or killing themselves just to fall into eternal darkness. One of these Awakened is a local vagabond called Charles, known by Paul, who comes into possession of the manuscript, and as such, sees himself as a sort of apostle, a person who believes within the construct of its words and phrases hides hope, a kind of instructional manual for a new world. Charles convinces the Awakened that this disease is only to purge the world of society's flotsam, and that soon, there will be a uprising, a new beginning, and the Nod manuscript will govern their lives forevermore. The destruction and breakdown of civilization is only part of the story, a necessary sacrifice to deliver a narrative rich with religious, ethic, and philosophical dichotomies, in particular, "good and evil". The desire of sleep is the catalyst to behavioural explosions where being morally positive is consumed by the morally negative.

Adrian Barnes has successfully delivered a very simple dystopian story here; a nation in the throes of panic, frenzy, poverty, collapse and psychosis. But underneath lies a much richer, and cleverer, narrative where Paul, a self-confessed misanthrope, becomes a reluctant messianic saint, willing to sacrifice his own life to save others. Barnes' ability to craft beautiful similes that immerse you in this crazy world is hypnotic, and the manipulation of words, turning them into nouns for characters, is akin to the adroit hands of Antony Burgess. The writing is sublime in places, funny in its social observations, and yet strong enough to stand up to many other literary books that frowned upon this type of genre. In truth, Nod could have easily been a novel written by Jim Crace, or for that matter, the transgressive-guru Chuck Palahniuk.

To steal a line from the book, "Life's a scab, and it's our nature to pick at it until it bleeds." Nod is very much the same; once you begin picking at its narrative, it will mark you forever.


Praise of Motherhood
Praise of Motherhood
by Phil Jourdan
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.90

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Praise for Jourdan, 25 Aug 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Praise of Motherhood (Paperback)
Phil Jourdan has a natural gift for writing. He is sincere and honest, which is a rare commodity in a writer. It is almost as if the book is a physical extension of his body, his spine cracked and marked by the hours spent at the computer typing. And his heart, the many pages that are exposed when pushed open. A beautiful, sad, but resonating slice of human life. This book is as much about you, me and everyone else, as it is about Phil Jourdan. Wonderful stuff. Yes, it is a personal book, but it's contents is far reaching. I think that's the real charm and strength of this novel. It's honest. Brutally at times, but my god, if only more writers bled on that page like this the world but be much richer for it.


Transubstantiate
Transubstantiate
by Richard Thomas
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Transubstantiate - Ingrained, 8 July 2010
This review is from: Transubstantiate (Paperback)
For me, and a few other writers who know Richard, Transubstantiate seems like the novel been around almost as long as we've known Richard. That's not to say it was written a long time ago, quite the contrary. No, it's through his enthusiasm and passion, energy and love for this novel, that Richard has ingrained Transubstantiate into my psyche forever.

By far one of the most uncompromising and determined writers around, Richard is gifted at prose as he is sincerely gracious. It's sickening, if the truth be told. With a very envious publishing career where he was the winner of the ChiZine Publications 2009 "Enter the World of Filaria" contest, and his short story "Maker of Flight" was chosen by Filaria author Brent Hayward and Bram Stoker Award-Winning editor Brett Alexander Savory, not to mention having a story published in Cemetery Dance, I can't help but feel inspired.

It'd be wise to see Transubstantiate as more the hors d'oeuvre before the main banquet, an appetizer of such allure it will make your mouth and stomach ache. It is the first of many, and the one that marks the beginning of a publishing career that will outlive most of us.

To whet your appetite, here is the official synopsis:

A neo-noir transgressive thriller about a man who has taken himself off the grid and punishes those that the law has overlooked or failed to prosecute. Altered and breaking apart, he follows orders while questioning the reality and motivation of those people that are in his life. A dark past filled with tragedy looms over him while he tries to embrace the ghost of Holly, his only female connection, under orders from Vlad, while taking care of his bedraggled cat, Luscious. At what point does he just end it all? Or does he stay in his role as judge, jury and executioner for the rest of his life?


The Art of Being Dead
The Art of Being Dead
by Stephen Clayton
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.15

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Can you become a murderer by doing nothing?", 19 Sep 2008
This review is from: The Art of Being Dead (Paperback)
Stephen Clayton's debut novel, The Art Of Being Dead, is a story that underlines how by doing very little in life, you can still be drawn into anarchy, shame and murder. You would expect with such an absorbing opening line, and blurb tease as "Can you become a murderer by doing nothing?", that the book will be subversive, dark and broody. You'd be mistaken; The Art of Being Dead is much more.

Very cool book that works on many different levels. Stephen Clayton is definitely someone to look out for in the future, and if you don't already have a copy of this book, buy one!


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