Month: December 2011

Stargazer (Vols. 1 and 2)

Longtime readers of this blog might remember my glowing review of Von Allan’s debut graphic novel, The Road to God Knows, a lovingly wrought tale of a young Ottawan’s quest to attend a pro wrestling match in an effort to escape from the doldrums of her otherwise dreary life. Allan’s latest effort, Stargazer, explores similar themes but sees the writer/artist expanding his artistic palette to include strong elements of science fiction and fantasy–and succeeding wildly in his creation of an emotionally complex and touching imaginary realm.

This time around, a young girl named Marni is bequeathed a mysterious artifact that transports her to a mysterious realm along with two of her best of friends. Grieving over the recent loss of her mother, Marni finds herself on a quest that is as much about self-discovery as it is about finding her way back home. Along the way, Marni and company encounter a race of gentle satyrs and their robotic guardians, uncover the mystery of an apparently lost civilization of three-armed lizard men, and confront a terrifying monster straight out of their darkest nightmares.

While Stargazer certainly evokes “little girl lost” tales a la Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, Allan puts a new twist on the formula by sending three friends into the mysterious realm on the other side of the proverbial looking glass. In so doing, he gives his characters the opportunity to come of age even as they bump up against the limits of their friendship. In this sense, the graphic novel is a spiritual and emotional cousin to Stephen King’s “The Body” in that it’s as much about growing up as it is about exploring the unknown.

Of special interest to those interested in the process of creating a graphic novel are the books’ “extras” in which Allan walks readers through his early brainstorming sessions and provides sample pages from the script that eventually evolved into the finished product.

Overall, Stargazer is an excellent graphic novel by an artist whose talent is only rivaled by his heart. Perfect for readers of all ages, particularly those with a love for the fantastic.

-Review by Marc Schuster

Interview with Nick Marsh

Nick Marsh is a veterinary surgeon working in Devon, UK. In addition, he is the author of the Conduit sequence of novels about Alan Reece, a young man who discovers he is Earth’s ‘Conduit’ – a link between the material world, and the shadowy world beyond. In this interview, he joins us to talk about his latest project – a fantasy novel, The Ancients, now available as an Amazon Kindle e-book.

Welcome, Nick!
Hi Marc, thanks for giving me the chance to talk to you!

My pleasure. Let’s start with some information about your latest novel, The Ancients.
The Ancients is a fantasy novel, set in a country torn apart by civil war. It follows the fortunes of Dazlar, a knight returning to his homeland, and a young woman with no past. Together, they attempt to piece together her missing memories, not realising the danger they are putting themselves in by trying.

I’ve wanted to write a fantasy novel for a while; of course, me being me, I couldn’t resist throwing in some science fiction too. Maybe it’s a reflex for me – the Conduit novels started off as a straight novel about life as a vet, and before I knew it a transparent cow had crept onto the page. There’s probably a medical term for it. Don’t misunderstand me, The Ancients is in almost all respects, a fantasy novel. I’ll leave it up to the readers to discover where and when the science fiction enters the frame!

What drew you to this story?
I wanted to explore some ideas that I’m very interested in – themes like the nature of reality and the meaning of life, how different people and personalities react to serious cracks in their belief system. All of that is in The Ancients, to some degree. It’s a nice way for me to examine the ideas without being put in a rubber room (well, not yet, anyway).

On a less pretentious level – I’m a nerd, and I’ve rolled a fair number of funny-shaped dice in my time. I just wanted to try my hand at a fantasy, and I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed doing so. Call me an old softie (actually, I’d prefer it if you called me a young softie) but I wanted to write something of a character story too. In all my favourite novels – the ones I keep returning to – it’s not the setting or the story that move me and make me read them again, it’s the characters, ones that feel like real people. I hope I’ve achieved something close to that with Dazlar and the others.

Who are some of your literary influences?
Well, that varies depending on which book I’m writing. For The Ancients, Lord of the Rings, the Dragonlance Chronicles, and many geeky evenings playing Dungeons and Dragons all played their part, but casting the net a little further, Philip K Dick, William Golding and even Charles Darwin have all warped my fragile little mind. For the Conduit novels, Douglas Adams and H.P. Lovecraft are both strong influences, if rather strange bedfellows.

The Ancients is available as an e-book. Do you have any thoughts on that medium that you’d like to share?
Well, as I reply to this, it’s a few days after Christmas, and I’m still umbilically attached to my shiny new Kindle. A few minutes after unwrapping it, I did the same thing everyone else does when they got a kindle – downloaded an enormous number of free classics which I’d love to read but am well aware I will never get round to looking at. My own kindle now contains the complete works of Shakespeare, Wodehouse, Dickens, and many others, which have about of much chance of being read as a Christmas sprout on my plate has of being eaten. But they’ll make me feel clever if anyone has a look over my reading list.

Seriously, though, you don’t have to be Stephen King to realise that the world of publishing is undergoing a seismic shift at the moment. For myself. a child of the seventies, I think I still prefer the feel, the look, and even (please don’t think I’m too weird) the smell of an actual book, but I can see many advantages to eBooks. The portability, the ability to search and quickly find quotes. It’s nice to be able to read PDFs and other electronic documents on my kindle too. I suspect that the eBook may eventually replace the paperback as the easy, cheap and disposable read, whilst the hardback will still be around for presents and bookshelves. But who can say for sure about the future? I’m still waiting for my hoverboard from Back to the Future part 2.

 In addition to writing, you’re a full-time veterinary surgeon. Where and/or how do you find the time to fit writing into your schedule?
Ah, now, I came prepared for this one! I wrote a short article for the New Writers UK Newsletter about that very topic.

For everyone who doesn’t follow the link – quick summary, black magic.

I understand that you’re currently working on a new novel. Can you talk about that one? What’s it all about?
Absolutely! The Express Diaries is a globe-trotting (well, Europe-trotting) story of intrigue, secret cults and dark magic set on and around the Orient Express in 1925. It’s inspired by my good friends at, a site dedicated to the works of H.P. Lovecraft, although I’ve taken it in my own direction.

I’m currently working my way through the second draft of the novel, and hopefully it will be coming out at some point next year. I might be able to get an extract to you soon!

Is there any chance we’ll get to see a third installment of the Conduit series at any point in the future? Or are you working on anything else?
I hope so, yes, I’ve got lots more ideas of horrible things to put Alan & the gang through. I’m giving him a bit of a rest at the moment, poor chap, as I’ve put him through the wringer recently. As soon as he’s recovered enough, I’ll send him on his way again! I’ll keep you informed.

As far as other writing projects go – I’m mainly working on my blog, Maybe it –should- happen to a vet ( , an intimate and (hopefully) humorous examination of what it’s like working as a vet at the dawn of the 21st century. It’s a great stress reliever for me, and a bit of an insight into my life outside of writing. Comments and opinions on my blog would be enormously welcome!

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me!
No problem at all, Marc, thanks for inviting me.

In addition to checking out Nick’s blog, you can visit him online at And be sure to take a look at The Ancients, as well!  Click here for US purchse. Click here for UK purchase.

Angels Carry the Sun – Review by Nancy Orlando

If you enjoy unexpected twists, thought provoking poetry, and side trips into the past, this is the book for you.  Author Phoebe Wilcox and Lilly Press have combined to bring us what the book cover describes as “a tale of love, lust and lyricism.”  But don’t jump to conclusions about what you’ll find between the covers; this is not a light-hearted tale of romance.  This book will keep you turning the pages and you’ll never expect what happens in the end.

We meet the main characters of the story in an early 1980’s high school classroom as Mr. Everett Finn is eating his lunch.  While he eats, student Flora McDermott watches and shares his potato chips.  Right now you’re probably thinking typical school girl crush; but this goes far beyond what you may have witnessed in your youth.  You’ll have to read on and interpret for yourself the letters and poetry that Flora writes to him.  He knew he should report her behavior to the school; however, ego over-ruled reason.

Her best friend doesn’t understand the attraction to a man old enough to be Flora’s father but tries to be supportive.  She even does the driving when Flora wants to follow him from school to locate his house.

You’ll learn about Flora’s mother, sister, and father through vignettes inserted in the story line.

But don’t forget about Mr. Finn’s home life.  There are issues in his marriage that contribute to the events that unfold.  And you won’t want to miss what happens when his wife, Lottie, discovers he’s been holding on to some of those letters.

I found Flora’s mother and Lottie to represent two varying parts of the 60’s culture even though it is now the 1980’s.  And as the story moves through time, Flora’s new friends from college add to the mix of unusual characters influencing her choices.

When Flora’s schemes combine with suggestions from friends about what the relationship could or should be collide, you won’t want to miss the craziness that ensues.  This book will keep you glued to its pages until you reach the very end.

Review by N. Orlando

Domestic Apparition – Review by Cindy Zelman

Meg Tuite’s book, Domestic Apparition, struts boldly along the edge of a tight rope woven of hilarity and tragedy. You might laugh and cry in the same chapter, on the same page, in the same sentence. This book is brilliant.

As a reader, Tuite leaves me spell-bound as she explores the lives of a modern family: Dad, clearly a son of a bitch who shows mom the right way to slice a tomato in an astounding metaphor of abuse. Mom, who barely says a word, until Michelle hears a tragic cry come out of her one day over a deep loss. Older sister Stephanie is a rebel, perhaps a lesbian, or maybe just a lesbian to spite mom and dad; and narrator Michelle is a wonderful interpreter and tour guide of the harsh world in which she must navigate, exposing the truths and underbellies of our American family life.

Published in 2011 by San Francisco Bay Press, each chapter of Tuite’s book is its own work of art – ranging from the beautiful prose poem of “Religion,” to the dazzling narration of Michelle-turned-observant- anthropologist in “Family Conference.”  Most of the stories in the book have been published in literary journals and “Family Conference” was a finalist in the Glimmer Train Short Story Contest for New Writers in 2010.

This is a book for readers and writers.

Tuite mesmerizes the reader as we learn, through Michelle’s eyes, the story of her life, beginning at the age of six when she is drafted into the “human abuse” of Catholic schools, replete with wretched nuns assuming men’s names; and through her early adulthood, where, working for a bloodsucking corporation, a true human connection is finally, and unexpectedly, made.

As a writer, this is one of those books (few and far between) where I say on nearly every page: I wish I could write like this. Meg Tuite goes wild with the English language but never loses control. I am enthralled by her abilities to do what she does with prose. She is a brilliant stylist and storyteller. Open to any page and you will find a sentence (usually many) that will knock your socks off.

Here’s one:

“Every night my grandmother limps out of the liquor store with the submissive stoop of the genuflected and the promise of a liturgy to come in a bottle.”

I’m still looking for my socks, which were blown clear across town by that sentence and so many more.  Brava!