After a lifetime of New Year’s resolutions … and often failing to keep them, these last years I’ve steered away from making any.
However, one aspect of blogging weighs heavily upon me, my failure to review as many books as I would like, particularly indie-published ones. If my TBR pile was a real heap of books they would fill a room, I fear; luckily many are kept safe on my Kindle, hidden from immediate sight but never forgotten. I’m determined to share these books with you on my blog, a couple every month and I am happy to start with the two below.
Ironically, these are paperbacks, one a poetry book kindly gifted to me by Bette A. Stevens. The other by Mary Smith caught my interest as an unusual factual book about her local town.
“My Maine: Haiku through the Seasons” by Bette A. Stevens
‘My Maine’ is a gem of a poetry book celebrating the state of Maine through 150 haikus. Bette A. Stevens captures the essence and heart of Maine with wonderful and evocative poetry that flows easily from one to the next.
Divided into four seasons each page is accompanied by a photograph taken by the poet, all stunning, reflecting the brimming beauty of her words. I am in awe how the poet has not only managed to bring alive the grandeur of the landscape, its mountains, pine trees and lakes but also writes with skill and a sense of humour about the minutiae of life in the state!
The writer’s keen observation of life is evident throughout and her passion for nature and the wildlife is extraordinary and she conveys this to the reader with exemplary skill.
This is a book I treasure and which I’ve read many times. I’m absolutely captivated by the ‘story’ of Maine, a state I feel I can now rightly call, every so slightly, ‘My Maine’!
Whilst reviewing the book I jotted down many of my favourite haikus. Here are just a couple to tempt you!
“Firewoods heaped high Mesmerizing hearth aglow Cozy reading nook.”
Bette A. Stevens
“Silently – Snowfalls Reign over field and forest Supremely sovereign.”
“A-Z of Dumfries: Place-People-History” by Mary Smith & Keith Kirk
In her latest book Mary Smith, along with fellow writer Keith Kirk, takes the reader on a fascinating and absorbing alphabetical tour of her local town, Dumfries. Situated in the South West of Scotland, people have lived in the area for at least 3,000 years and it has been the home to many including the famous poet Robert Burns. Through the 26 letters of the alphabet, the book explores the places, people and history of Dumfries and it offers incredible insight to a town that I fear is often overlooked.
Some of the entries depict traumatic events as the reader learns about Robert Burns’ wife Jean Armour, who had nine children but only three survived her. Superb details and plenty of colour photographs ensured that I was hooked by the various entries and I immediately felt as if I had myself visited amongst other places Robert Burns museum and the world’s oldest working Camera Obscura.
I am astounded by the level of research and the momentous task of collecting all the information, collating and writing the book. It is presented in a skilled yet easily accessible and entertaining manner. The reader is captivated by both the larger historical events and people as well as ordinary objects such as fountains and parks, all with their own unique story.
As I finished the book I felt as if I’d travelled around Dumfries and seen its gems for myself … and I hope to do so in the future. I will be a highly informed visitor as a result of this book! Meanwhile, it has made me intrigued about my town, which I know I take for granted and I am now eager to learn more about it!
I hope you’ve enjoy reading these reviews which I intend to become a regular monthly feature. Have you read any of these? Are you tempted by the reviews to look at any closer. As always, I look forward to your comments & discussion.
On 2nd September 2015 an image flashed around the world that saddened and horrified us all. A young boy, later identified as Alan Kurdi, lay motionless on a pristine beach in Turkey, the dawn sun glowing around him. He was dead. During his three young years he knew only war in Syria; a war his parents fled to find safety. The photo of Alan touched everyone and inspired, nay, I would say, drove one famous writer to pen a short book, Sea Prayer.
Within Khaled Hosseini’s Sea Prayer the words and illustrations are intrinsically linked, creating a wondrous work of art.
The first page starts as a letter (quasi-eulogy) to the narrator’s son, Marwan, and it recalls the beauty of life in Homs. The father describes his childhood when he had woken “to the stirrings of olive trees in the breeze/to the bleating of your grandmother’s goat”.
Tender, colourful watercolours by Dan Williams accompany the story. On one page the vibrant red of poppies match the red of his wife’s coat, as she holds her son’s hand wandering through a field.
It’s a time of peace, tranquillity, harmony. In the old city there was “a mosque for us Muslims,/a church for our Christian neighbours,/and a grand souk for us all”.
Soon this life of normality is transformed into one “like some long-dissolved rumour”.
As war approaches the watercolours darken, greys, blacks, browns dominate. These are more powerful than ever, conveying the despair and sense of hopelessness. As the illustrations change, so does the language for a few pages, the short staccato sentences echoing the weapons.
“The skies spitting bombs. Starvation. Burials.”
Marwan’s childhood is one where he has learned “dark blood is better news/than bright.” His bathing places are not the idyllic creeks of his father’s youth, rather that of bomb craters. This is not a childhood.
As the family join thousands of other refugees fleeing their country I find myself physically pained, the long march pictured across two pages, no words necessary.
Father and son find themselves on a beach with many others where they stand “in the glow of this three-quarter moon”. Here the father makes his promise: “Nothing bad will happen.”
A hollow promise as the father recognises more than ever “How powerless I am to protect you from it.”
The book ends with the beauty of sunlight across a soft morning beach. A new day, a new beginning, new hope.
Three certainties not afforded to all.
This is a book I’ve read many times, each occasion more tear-eyed than before. It is beautiful, heartbreaking, emotional. It is a testament to the human spirit, to love and compassion within every one of us.
Throughout Khaled Hosseini writes with flair and skill, the poetic prose magically drawing the reader into the story. It’s deceptively simple, almost a lullaby in the gentlest of tones telling the cruellest of truths.
If you come to Sea Prayer expecting a lengthy literary novel such as his brilliant The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns orAnd The Mountains Echoed you will probably be disappointed.
If you expect to catch the sublime gifted language and story to remember for all time by this renowned author, you are in for a treat.
This is a book that crosses all genres, it’s for children, for adults, for humanity — it’s a precious gift to hold it within one’s hands and heart. Everyone who reads it will be, as I was, humbled by its message told on behalf of all refugees who endure so much but whose voices are seldom heard.
I’ve never needed any encouragement to read books! When very young I recall looking at the pictures, longing to read the words beneath. Of course there were lots of children’s books, my favourite comic, all read to me. One set of four books though fascinated me, weighty tomes, even more so for four-year-old me, as I lugged the encyclopaedia, one at a time, from the shelf, to my bunk bed, and sat intensely perusing the images, running my fingers under the words, imagining their wisdom. Occasionally I would ask my older brother to decipher some of the script … although I made sure never to avail myself of his help too often. I did not want to tire him with my neediness!
Over the years I’ve kept numerous notebooks of the books I’ve read, made various lists, created my own small reading challenges. However, it was only though blogging that I discovered the plethora of reading challenges out there! All are wonderfully inventive and so tempting. However, I’ve only taken up a main one so far, the Goodreads Reading Challenge. Here you set your own target for the number of books you hope to read in that one year and duly note each one down when finished and possibly add a review. This challenge not only encourages more reading, but is accessible to other members to look at and it is also an excellent record of books read! My biggest haul one year was 91, the least 52. Still, I met my targets and it is interesting to see how the reading fluctuates. Some bloggers are a tour de force in this challenge and Jacqui Murray at worddreams… managed to read a phenomenal 222 books last year! Congratulations!
Some other challenges are centred around genre, or a famous book, or even the alphabet.
The ‘When Are You Reading?’ challenge intrigued me straight away by the concept of reading a book set in twelve different eras. Not too ambitious, effectively a book a month, this is one I think I can manage. It’s not too difficult to discover a book for the later timelines and as you will see I am already well on the way to completing four time periods. However, what can I read for the pre-1300s 1400-1599, etc? The mind boggles. I may have to turn to Chaucer for one. Do you have any book recommendations to help me out for any of the eras?
To take part you need to read a book set in each of the following eras, and it is up to you to determine which these are. The suggestion is to choose a year where the largest part of the action or the most important event occurs.
Below are the time eras and I have filled in some with the books I have read/nearly finished for four of the timelines.
1300 – 1499
1500 – 1699
1700 – 1799
1800 – 1899
1900 – 1919
1920 – 1939 The Devil Aspect by Craig Russell… still reading – an Ebook – NetGalley
1940 – 1959 Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk … still reading Ebook
1960 – 1979
1980 – 1999 Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (read January 2019) Paperback
2000 – Present This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay (read January 2019) Paperback
I must admit I rarely tackle four books simultaneously, however the books themselves are so diverse, and owing to the style and content ensured I needed a change of pace and variety.
The dark gothic mystery of ‘A Devil Aspect ‘ by Craig Russell is not my usual genre but asked by the publisher to review this on behalf of NetGalley I could not refuse. Set mainly in the 1930s in Czechoslovakia it is an intense, at times terrifying book. One far too frightening to read at night! Yet the ideas, the merging of the current political instability with the madness of the six homicidal lunatics is intoxicating. These criminals are incarcerated in the bleakest of prisons and a young psychiatrist travels to see them and unravel their secrets. Meanwhile, in Prague a new serial murderer is at large, his crimes so barbaric it seems they could only be committed by the Devil himself. The city of Prague is incredibly atmospheric and captured in all its layers of beauty and darkness whilst the characters are vivd and intense.
Many thanks to Barbara at Book Cub Mom for introducing me to ‘Youngblood Hawke’ by Herman Wouk; when it made her most favourite book ever I just had to read it. Do take a look at her review here.
It is a worthy literary opus and runs to nearly 800 pages in paperback. I’m finding it utterly compelling, wonderfully descriptive and the book reaches into the mind and emotions of the young writer, his early success, the crazy ensuing life, battle to control his sense of self. It recreates the era brilliantly but I need an occasional rest from it and hence my more modern books of the past two weeks.
One of these is ‘This is Going to Hurt’ by Adam Kay This a factual book about the ‘life of a junior doctor: 97-hour weeks, life and death decisions, a constant tsunami of bodily fluids, and the hospital parking meter earns more than you.’ I read this book in 24 hours and haven’t stopped talking about it since and there is now a queue in our house to read it next. Although at times hysterically funny the book is ultimately a serious indictment of the numerous governments and their (mis-)handling of the NHS over the years. I feel deep despair at the lack of respect and treatment of the medical staff from the highest level. Whilst laughing at the insanely comic situations (some in graphic detail) I am not sure anyone considering starting a family should read the book – it would have terrified me. Not for the faint-hearted but a very well-written book portraying the harsh reality for NHS hospital doctors.
“Tuesday, 5 July 2005 Trying to work out a seventy-year-old lady’s alcohol consumption to record in the notes. I’ve established that wine is her poison. Me: ‘And how much wine do you drink per day, would you say?’ Patient: ‘About three bottles on a good day.’ Me: ‘OK . . . And on a bad day?’ Patient: ‘On a bad day I only manage one.” ― Adam Kay, ‘This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor’
What books are you currently reading? Are you participating in any Reading Challenges? Would you be tempted to take part in ‘When Are You Reading’ challenge? If so, please click here to learn more and sign up!
The name alone of the country Afghanistan conjures up images of war, strife, death, despair and deprivation. Intellectually we know there is a life beyond the headlines, an everyday existence which is rarely written about. A few books in recent years have emerged to fill the gap of our lack of knowledge and one of the best of these is Mary Smith’s excellent ‘No More Mulberries’.
Although a fiction novel, it is evident that the author draws on her personal experience as a health worker for ten years in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
‘No More Mulberries’ follows the life of Scottish-born midwife Miriam, who has wholeheartedly embraced Afghanistan and relishes her work with the local people in the rural community of her second husband. Here she makes friends, finds fulfilment with her work however cracks quickly appear in her life.
Her husband Iqbal is struggling to cope with the return to his home village and to balance the rigid expectations of his family, friends and colleagues with his previously more independent life in Pakistan, where he could equally celebrate and be proud of Miriam’s success. As Iqbal escapes into a world of work and silence, Miriam, against her husband’s wishes, joins another health clinic as a translator for Afghan paramedics and foreign doctors. Here the past and present collide as a friend of her first husband, her first and true love, rides into the clinic to bring her for a visit to the village she first lived in when newly married and in Afghanistan years earlier.
The book follows the intense journey of Miriam and partly Iqbal’s journey in the present-day as well as brilliantly bringing their past vivdly alive for us in flashbacks. Through these the characters deep introspection develops into an inner soul-searching journey. For both past traumas has marred their present lives and that of their children. Is it too late for them, they both wonder as their relationship seems to flounder? How can they live in a village that threatens to engulf them by history and tradition?
The book is set in the stunning natural landscape of the countryside as well as to the increasingly unstable political backdrop where tribal tensions are growing in severity. The, at times, precarious situation surrounding Miriam and her family ensures this is a tense, compulsive read which never flags. I was riveted by both the epic sweeping story as well as the wonderful descriptive writing and the beautifully drawn and varied characters in ‘No More Mulberries’.
Mary Smith is an assured writer who unravels the multifaceted lives of her characters with creative skill, whilst retaining a tight control of the overall novel. I was hooked from the very beginning and felt a sense of loss upon finishing the book … one of those times I just didn’t want to say farewell to my new friends! This is one of my favourite books this year and I look forward to reading more by this author.
‘The Storyteller Speaks’ by Annika Perry brilliantly illustrates how short stories can capture your heart, transport you to the scene of action and submerge you in the emotional journey of the characters. Her stories are a little above your expectations…a lot has to be discerned, which she leaves unsaid and therein lies their magic. Only few can create it.
The symbolism of Chillies in my Handbag is chilling, the agony that the words hide slowly spills out as Perry writes in the style of dual timeline, lending a touch of realism to the story, keeping a firm grip on the reader’s attention, actually hinting at profound matters of domestic strife. Carl’s loss too unravels itself gently as you keep wondering where is he heading in snow and who is constantly whispering “keep safe” in his ear. It is the style and the exquisite language that raises this book above an average storybook.
My heart missed a beat when Jake and Ellie got lost in the shroud of mist and snow and it sank with each shout for them. Such is the effect of Annika’s style of writing! It is difficult to pick up a favorite one from this collection of stories because all of them strike some chord somewhere as they are based on varied themes, each one connects us with the complexities of life, giving a subtle message that we are mere puppets or mute spectators in many situations that we wish to control.
by Balroop Singh
Perry’s debut book is a beautiful read. The twenty-one selections in The Storyteller Speaks are primarily short stories, with a smattering of flash fiction and poems. The author states in the afterword that the thread binding the work together is “the belief that there is no such thing as an ordinary life,” and this insight is clearly borne out in her book. It’s what captivated me as I read.
The stories are all quite different, some dark and some lighthearted, though most are filled with the deep emotions of ordinary people as they navigate disappointment, loss, redemption, healing, and love. These are feelings that will strike a chord with most people, even if the circumstances aren’t quite the same. Most of the tales felt “quiet” to me, personal, as if I was looking beneath the outer appearances of a person into the rich pathos of their inner lives.
I tried to pick favorites as I read, but had to give up; there were too many. I recommend this book to anyone who loves short stories and wants to feel moved by the strength and courage of the human spirit.
by Diana P.
Writers may exaggerate the negative and write dystopian fiction. They may exaggerate the positive and write utopian fiction. In this fascinating collection of short stories, the positive being brought into greater relief is our ability to choose integrity and kindness rather than degenerative and uncaring mindsets and actions. Each story is a core sample of a human moral issue, a history of resiliency and loss, exposed to the light.
In most of the stories the characters are challenged by a tragic or potentially damaging event outside their control; in a moment, their lives are changed drastically, forever. Some of the characters have caused their own dilemma. They go on in a fog or struggle with painful memories and swings of emotion before they reach the tipping point: how will they respond? And it is to their credit they reach this tipping point, because it is done through conscious moral effort. But whether tragedy has come to them or they have made their own mistakes, they eventually recognize the situation through a severe exercise in honesty. This honesty springs from valuing the best sense of who they can be and become. They often draw on enriching relationships with other people and humanizing traditions. Then they go beyond: they make amends. By taking this action, they rise to a new level of moral and ethical consciousness. This is portrayed in clear-eyed fashion, showing how difficult it is to do, and yet liberating.
It is more than interesting for stories like these to be told; it may be necessary for our adaptability and survival, for our thriving as a species. The same could be said for the negative. In fact, these stories blend both in a new and perceptive way.
The flaws in her writing and story composition are small quibbles. For instance, just when I thought the stories would all be similar samples, there was a radical change. It is my hope Annika Perry will continue to hone her craft as a writer. She may yet give us an iconic work.
by Mary Clark
The Storyteller Speaks is a collection of short stories, and a couple of poems too, about life, love and death. This is the debut book of Annika Perry and she has certainly managed to write a lovely selection of very different stories.
Chillies in my handbag is a story of a woman’s gradual disillusionment with love, her married life and even her child. The Mother’s inability to protect her only son from entering the traditional boarding school attended by her husband and his father before him, sets him on the road to becoming everything she has come to dislike in her husband. The son’s gradual reshaping of himself, a round peg, to fit into the traditional square hole is interesting. Will the Mother finally rebel against the dictates of her husband and if she does where will it all end?
The man on the flying trapeze is a rather interesting poem about a trapeze artist who finds himself in an accident situation. The format of the poem was rather unique with each stanza reading almost like a limerick. I did enjoy this very much.
Smouldering Shame was another tale than fascinated me with its very likelihood in the set of circumstances. A tale of a woman whose life suddenly comes unraveled because of the secret activities of her husband. He is a man who cannot see the blessings in his life and, as many older men do, seeks more excitement in his retirement than is on offer in his home with rather disastrous consequences.
A couple of the stories could definitely have continuations. I think the author may have quite a bit more to tell us about these characters. I really enjoyed this book. I think Annika Perry has a lot of potential as a writer.
by Robbie Cheadle
My heart and mind were opened as the author promised in her “About the Book” section at the end of this marvelous collection of short stories. I’m generally not a reader of short stories, because I like the longer process of getting to know a character for an entire novel. But Perry gives full stories in a short story format that touch the reader while allowing the reader to imagine the before and after of the characters’ lives. The stories aren’t all happiness and light, some are edgier and sad. But they all give out a light through the expressive language used by the author. Also, each narrator is different in these stories, and the point of view can be first person or third; Perry switches it up. I took my time reading this collection, because each story is unique, and I liked spending some time with each one after I’d finished reading it. Well done, Annika Perry!
by P. Wight
The Storyteller Speaks is a wonderful collection of short stories, flash fiction and poems that depict a wide range of events, characters and viewpoints. At the centre of each is human relationships and the effect that a single event can often have on the course of a life. A full gamut of emotions is here, including love, grief, anger and redemption. The stories are moving, uplifting, sometimes dark, sometimes amusing. My favourites include: The Whiteout Years which is a heart-breaking and touching depiction of grief and hope; and Loss of a Patriarch, a moving story about saying goodbye to the author’s grandfather. I also enjoyed the influences of the author’s Swedish heritage. This is a collection to savour and a book that fulfils its promise to win your heart.
This is not about the war between lovers of dogs or cats. It’s about Annika Perry, a talented writer who works like a cat.
A dog is all blubbery love smeared across your cheeks, a loyal paladin stationed stalwart by your side. Tongue lollygagging out of its jaw, tail flailing around like a pig in a muddy pit – you’re gonna be drowning in slobbery canine love in about five seconds. Or maybe a fangy foreign agent hired to attack: a German shepherd or English pit bull. Teeth bared and muzzle lowered –you better run. You always know where you stand with Rover.
But a cat – you can’t tell anything by looking at a cat. There it sits on the windowsill, licking its paw, indifferent to all things human – the tasty treats, the dangling mouse toy, the arms ready to cuddle it. Suddenly it pounces, its claws deep in your bicep leaving parallel bloody tracks or a snip of your skin flapping loosely as it samples your nose. And then sashays back to the windowsill to await its next victim. Go ahead, stick around, it could be you again, if you dare to get close enough. Silly you, thinking Puss loves ya.
I mention this because Annika Perry writes like a cat. There she sits at the window, chewing on the end of her pencil, watching the world go by. And if you are anywhere near her line of sight, she’s probably watching you. Observing you and all your little peccadilloes. Like the way you hold a letter that might seal your future, or how you sip wine while your mind is loitering elsewhere. How the March wind drives rain upwards, making an umbrella useless. How a bouquet of vibrant flowers devastates you with memories and also lights up your world. You didn’t know she was looking that closely, did you? That’s a cat for you – indifferent but all knowing.
At first glance, The Storyteller Speaks appears to be gentle family fare, tales written by a sweet faced, blue eyed lady who spends her time between Great Britain and Sweden, bearing candles and roses, taking photos, penning notes.
It’s how she entices you to her book. I’ve read The Storyteller Speaks twice, the first time in order of presentation, the second in a meandering stroll through her poems and short stories.
If I attempt to review each of the twenty-one entries, I’ll over-report and do the book no justice. So I’m going to focus on a few tales that blew me away, as if driven by a sirocco out of the Sahara. This is important to remember, because like a cat, Perry sneaks up on you to lunge for your emotional jugular while you’re unaware she’s even in the room. She’s a keen observer of people, absorbing cultural details and body language.
Sofia! is about a little girl and her stuffed toy whose uncle takes her to visit the local zoo. It’s told through eyewitness accounts of zoo visitors and officials who answer Inspector Nunn’s questions. Apparently the child, Sofia, has been kidnapped or gotten lost as the focus of each interrogation appears to be what has happened to the child. Perry escalates suspense as we wait to find out if Sofia is safe or remains lost or even perhaps is dead, our suspicion and concern for the little girl mounting with each witness. The final person interviewed is Marija, Sofia’s mother, to whom Nunn relates the awful conclusion of the story. A shred of flesh hangs from Perry’s claws.
At a Loose End is a sweet story, about the time of life when you want to make significant changes to accommodate a different economic reality and new opportunities. Some decisions need only a small alteration, an act not possible a few years earlier. But family wedges into the narrow spaces and – I won’t ruin the story for you. But I bet you’ll agree. It’s a rather sweet story, proving sometimes the cat just wants to sun herself on the sill.
Lasting Sanctuary is a shorter story but one that packs a twist worthy of Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. To encompass so much in a wisp of a tale, just a brief iteration of this cat’s nine lives, is brilliant.
My favorite story is The Whiteout Years, and I’ve read it four times. Out of the gate, it captivated me with passages as lyrical as this one when Carl is driving through a winter storm, remembering his wife, Karin:
‘A moment of total silence. With the windows down he sat and listened. He never failed to be awed by the silence, the odd rustle of snow falling gently to the ground from the laden fir trees. The odd animalistic sound deep in the forest, feral and prehistoric.’
While this scene describes the landscape surrounding Carl, it also describes his isolation from the world. Lost in the snowdrift of his grief over his wife’s death, he is blinded by silence and whiteness and can’t move on with his life. The threat of Carl’s possible death looms throughout the story.
Annika Perry is a writer in tune with our deepest responses to the human condition, capturing the nuances of our psyche. Like an alert cat, she assesses carefully, knowing what to absorb for future use, how to convey realistic dialogue, which details will reveal more than the sum of their parts, and how to wind an unpredictable plot out of simple fare.
Unlike cats, Perry is respectful of people and all their foibles.
Sharon L. Pratt
The sub-title of this book is no overstatement. “Powerful Stories to Win Your Heart” is entirely apposite. I found the majority of the short stories fascinating and moving.
Annika writes succinctly, engaging the reader from the outset. She’s quick to paint a scene and I immediately felt I was “right there” with the characters. Scenes include a kitchen, a bedroom, a classroom, the inside of a car, even a prison cell. And she soon pulled me into each story with a turn of phrase that quite often injected a bit of suspense into the plot.
Topics cover the whole gamut of human experiences. Gambling debt. Redundancy. A fatal accident. A loveless marriage. A petty argument with long-lasting consequences. Injustice. Theft. Suicide. And much more. Likewise, be prepared to experience a range of emotions. Regret, joy, fear, horror, relief, shock, happiness …
I’ve been a fan of Annika’s blog voice for many years and particularly her ability to say so much with so few words in the short stories she often shares. Annika has a way of saying just enough to engage readers without giving too much away. She dribbles out clues. I hang on every word, wondering how it will unfold. I want to know–but not too fast because I’m enjoying the verbal journey. I need to saver every paragraph, every parsed thought, every surprise conclusion.
In Storyteller Speaks, Annika provides an eclectic mix of short stories, flash fiction, and poetry. All of these are character-driven explorations into the raw feelings so often part of everyday events and yet, through Annika, I see them in a different light.
by Jacqui Murray (Vine Voice)
The stories and poems in Annika Perry’s debut book are indeed compelling. Each one evokes various emotions from everyday life. I’ve followed Annika’s blog for awhile now, so I wasn’t surprised at how wonderful the final outcome turned out to be. The cover alone is stunning! She has her magical way of playing with words to pull the reader in, but keep one hanging on until the end. However, not all of her writing in this book is lighthearted; some is pretty dark. There were times when I smiled, moments when I was horrified, and occasions for tears. The beauty is that with each turn of the page to a new story or poem, the reader is pleasantly surprised. With this being said, it was difficult to choose favorites, but I managed to pull out a few: Chillies in My Handbag, Bouquet of White, A Rare Passion, Stars of Wonder, and Loss of a Patriarch, which personally resonated with me because of my father’s passing last fall. Another bonus to this creative compilation was the About the Stories section at the back of the book. I really enjoyed reading how each story was born. Overall, anyone who chooses to read this wonderful collection of short stories and poems will not be disappointed. This was a wonderful start to Annika Perry’s writing journey, and I’m sure I’m not alone in anticipating new publications from this amazing author.
by Lauren Scott
This is a brilliant collection of stories and poems. Each one offers a poignant message, sometimes uplifting, sometimes heartbreaking. What is consistent throughout is the command of the language, the eloquent turn of phrase, and the obvious passion behind each tale. There truly is something for everyone in this collection. I was particularly drawn to two stories: the last one, as it reminded me of my own grandfather, and the handbag story, which broke my heart (no mother should have to live through that). The author information at the end of the book was a lovely addition to the piece. I’m looking forward to more from this author.
This abundant collection of stories is well-written and an affecting read. The stories of everyday life go straight to the heart; some nostalgic, some reflective, some uplifting, and some heartwarming. I enjoyed reading this book, and the notes at the end about what inspired some of the stories.
by Khaya R
Annika Perry is a natural storyteller, a wordsmith of great talent. She writes at times with the language of a poet, at other times with the sharp and daring strokes of Picasso.
Sheer light infuse her pages;
Darkness where the soul cries.
Annika’s Anthology consists of stories filled with depth and entertainment. Joy and grief. Romance and thriller. They all share a deep care and love for their characters. The pace is unhurried, yet entirely without superfluous words. You are left totally absorbed in the events and settings.
How does she do it?
All I can say is … Annika, keep on writing.
I am hungry for more.
A wonderful book filled with meaningful stories. It would make a great gift.
by bernadette laganella
The appeal of short fiction is that it offers a glimpse of a character’s life, a problem, a twist and a quick finish. Annika Perry’s debut collection, The Storyteller Speaks, makes good on this promise in her newly published book of fiction and poetry.
Perry gives the reader twenty-one distinct stories about the daily challenges of marriage, children, friendship, family and loss. Her characters are knowable and likable, even the ones who find themselves on the bad end of a decision. Many of her stories depict the author’s upbringing in Sweden and the United Kingdom, yet show a universal understanding of family and relationships. And even though the stories are separate, the reader begins to develop a sense of community, as it seems as if some of the author’s characters might know each other.
Several standout stories will stick in the reader’s mind because of memorable characters and conflicts. In “The Whiteout Years,” a young widower wonders how he can let go of the heavy burden of guilt. Likewise, a young mother faces a very different future in “Sophia!” after a bizarre and tragic series of events. In one, there is a sign of hope. In the other, an unknown challenge.
Other stories finish with a warm feeling of love and friendship. In “Friends Forever,” Perry’s characters overcome a long and painful break and in “Role-Playing,” happiness is a given when old friends reunite.
But Perry isn’t afraid of exploring difficult or dark subjects. In “The Game,” children playing a seemingly harmless game discover the frightening power of their diversion. And in “Smouldering Shame,” Perry’s characters confront betrayal and a sorrowful tragedy. In “A Rare Passion,” a young man acts on impulse and immediately sees the folly of his decision. Can he fix his mistake in time?
Despite difficult subjects in many stories, Perry offers a strong overlying message of hope, love and family, as shown in her final story, “Loss of a Patriarch” in which a family finds peace and comfort after a beloved father and grandfather dies.
The Storyteller Speaks is a touching look at the challenges of life and relationships, an excellent debut. I look forward to reading more from this promising author.
by Book Club Mom
Having been a follower of Perry’s blog for a number of years, I was thrilled when she announced she was releasing a collection of her short stories. I knew anything she published would not disappoint. The Storyteller Speaks is a mix of poetry, flash fiction and short stories. Each piece is brilliantly written in a way that only Perry can do. She’s a beautiful writer who knows how to draw the reader into a story. I’ll look forward to more work in the future from this talented author.
by Jill Weahterholt
I think this book is a good read. Annika Perry is a perceptive observer of the human condition, and has a gift of harnessing the humdrum minutiae of everyday existence and bringing it to life in short, concise, well told stories. She also includes the occasional entertaining poem and limerick to further demonstrate her talents and add to the variety. As a bonus, Ms Perry includes notes at the end of the anthology, explaining her motivation for writing the stories, many of which, directly or indirectly, are borne out of her own experiences.
by Mark Charlton
Wonderful really wonderful. Beautiful stories that are moments of pure escapism. The characters make you want to know more and the simple but beautifully written stories are both moving and engaging. Thank you.
by Hayley Smith
Perry’s 21 stories are reflections on grief, love, murder and the extraordinary details of ordinary life. Her descriptions shine. Perry’s voice is one that sticks with you long after the stories have been read. They are emotional pieces. Moving. Honest. Filled with love and imagination.
Enjoyable and thought-provoking.
By Carol Balawyder
I am a big fan of Annika’s blog and “The Storyteller Speaks” does not disappoint. It is a well written and eclectic mix of stories from different genres that will indeed “win your heart.”
“The Whiteout Years” is poignant and beautifully written and “The Game” is both short and spooky. I particularly enjoyed “Kew a Rare Passion” based on a true story, and “Loss of a Patriach,” on the loss of Annika’s dear grandfather known as Morfar.
I believe both Morfar and Mormor will be incredibly proud of their grand daughter.
by Brigid P. Gallagher
The Storyteller Speaks is an electric collection of 21 short stories, flash fiction and poetry that makes for an entertaining read. These stories cover a wide range of situations such as love, murder, revenge, misadventures, injustices and grief.
The author bares her soul and grief over the loss of her Morfar and Mormor in the story, “Loss of a Patriarch.” She keeps the readers on edge and guessing until the end of some of the stories as in “Sofia.” She has an innate ability to use her words sparingly and dribble out little clues to keep the reader hanging on her every word until the end of the stories.
At the back of the book the author shares her inspiration for each story. It’s evident that she uses daily experiences in her life to create intriguing and fascinating tales.
This is a commendable beginning book for this talented author who will be one to watch for future books.
This is a wonderful collection of short stories. The author does such an excellent job of bringing her characters to life, it’s like pulling back a veil and stepping into their worlds. The flow of the writing is beautiful, the descriptions especially vivid. I rode emotional highs and lows along with the characters, swept up in their tales. Some are simple, some complex, all engaging. There are many gems in this collection, but I believe the first and the last are my personal favorites. The back matter in the book–which explains how many of the stories came to be–made the tales all the richer. I look forward to more work from this talented new writer!
by Mae Clair
A compelling collection of short fiction. Each story engages right from the start, and keeps delivering surprises as the character is developed and the action unfolds. Every piece is powerful in its own way. My favourite is Chillies in my Handbag, and I don’t want to give the plot away, but enough to say this: it’s a perfect illustration of Annika Perry’s talent and skill in capturing the deepest moments of the heart. From hope and loss to a joyful decision. From ambition and small joys to quiet desperation, then a calm and certain decision to change one’s life. Highly recommended.
by Cynthia Reyes
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Annika Perry has also written a novel, Island Girl which is in its final editing stages as well as two, as yet unpublished, books for younger children.
Below is my Open Letter to Amazon, which I am also sending to them in the post.
It beggars belief how little twelve years of my loyalty and patronage seems to mean to you.
From the first year of useable internet I was a keen shopper at your virtual store. As an avid reader the concept of books online proved irresistible. It was a joy to browse at my leisure, reading the beginnings of books, ordering. Very soon the sound of a book parcel landing on my hall carpet became a regular occurrence.
Quickly I adapted my shopping behaviour and as Amazon increasingly stocked various items, I was a frequent visitor — to the detriment of my purse! Christmases and birthdays saw orders for CDs, DVDs, console games. Household items too soon made it into my basket.
A few years later I heard about the new strange phenomenon called ebook! There was no way I could read on such a device, leaving my beloved paperback. I would never be converted. I held fast to this for a while, even when an eye disease made reading smaller print difficult. A relative sang the praises of Kindle – I would not relent. Until I was given a Kindle and a whole new world opened up for me; my love of reading rekindled and my library of virtual books grew exponentially.
All the years you wrote emails requesting reviews. Often only a day or two after the order. Sometimes before said item had even arrived. Only this morning I received just such a notification.
Intermittently I started to write them, then with increasing frequency. I hoped others would find them helpful. Sometimes I sang the praises of films or games, other times I recommended a seller for their prompt delivery. With books I described their impact on me, how successful and entertaining I found them.
All worked seamlessly until 7th June 2018.
The first inkling I had of any problem was as I came to leave a review for a book I had bought. I put the stars in. Then went to enter my review in the box when I was met with the following message.
What?! My first reaction was that it must be a glitch on my computer. I tried again. With the same result. I tried another product. Same outcome. I was unable to leave any review. I just couldn’t believe it!
I immediately contacted you via message and was promised a reply within 24 – 48 hrs. I decided to wait.
The next day, after reading online about this problem, another concern started gnawing at me.
What about the reviews I had posted. Recently? Years ago? Did I dare look? I almost wish I hadn’t checked.
I felt absolute and overwhelming shock. My heart pounded. I was stunned by what I saw. Nothing! All my reviews from the past twelve years eradicated.
All gone — without any warning, communication, discussion, explanation.
I felt devastated, dumbfounded. This felt like such a betrayal of trust, a reckless and total disregard for the individual, in this case myself. All my genuine efforts to review bonafide purchases and gifts had entirely disappeared.
Then came the impenetrable wall of your company … the blankness of silence.
Despite my three further attempts to contact you via message followed by three telephone calls I have still not had any explanation or discussion upon my lost reviews and my inability to post new ones.
The staff handling the calls were pleasant enough even having me in ironic laughter once. My last attempt to talk to someone, resulted in the bizarre declaration from the advisor that I hadn’t ever written any reviews! In disbelief I guffawed and repeated my original issue, already described at the start of the conversation.
All along I was promised I would be contacted soon and once I was even promised a reply in six hours.
During my last telephone call I was repeatedly assured that the matter was being passed over to the Community Team who would be contacting me in, the now familiar, 24 – 48 hrs.
With fading hope and lack of expectation of a reply I am still waiting. The sinking feeling of helplessness with regard to this issue is settling within me. The inability to even talk to someone with authority to discuss the problem is staggering.
In the midst of the emotional fallout, I have become upset with my own distress. In the grand scheme of things, I suppose this is not of such importance, yet it is to me.
All these years I have naively assumed that my longstanding business with your company was a matter of cooperation. I placed my trust in this and feel your total disregard and lack of communication deeply.
My initial shock is now diminishing and replaced by a sad acceptance. I feel for the sellers of the items I’ve bought, for their lost reviews. I despair that I cannot write my thoughts on any possible products I may buy in the future.
Finally, I am still human and trusting enough that a small part of me holds out that my plea for contact from yourselves is not entirely futile, that someone will get in touch with me. To discuss this issue, to find a resolution and hopefully resurrect my reviews and allow me to review in the future.
The heart and soul is vanishing in so much of the world these days — don’t let this happen in your organisation.
N E W S F L A S H N E W S F L A S H N E W S F L A S H N E W S F L A S H
I just went in again to check on my reviews on Amazon this afternoon (26th June) and to my utter astonishment I found my reviews are back on! Wow! The power of publicity and the influence of many voices sometimes succeeds … and so happy this is the case for me! Thank you everyone!
Creativity is wondrous gift and one that has no expiration date!
This thought came to me whilst reading ‘Encounters’ by Fred. H. Rohn. Fred Rohn came late to writing after a two hugely successful careers in public accounting and venture capital investment behind him. His first book, ‘A Fortunate Life’, was published last year when he was aged 91, followed by ‘Encounters’ this year.
I admire and am in awe at the ease he seemed to have entered his third career. Age was no boundary for him, nor for many other artistic people as he explains in the preface, stating that ‘creativity doesn’t stop as you age’ and Herman Wook still wrote at 102.
I myself also aspire and hope to be writing to the last of my days!
‘Encounters’ is a collection of stories of varying lengths which explore ‘Relationships in Conflict’. All the stories are brilliantly written and immediately pulled me into their scenarios. I was always intrigued by the seemingly innocuous beginnings, compelled to read on and unravel the lives of the characters.
Consequence of one’s action is a theme explored in many of the stories as the conflict is deftly outlined. A conflict often followed by reconciliation. Fred Rohn demonstrates skill in placing the reading in the middle of a scene and gradually letting the story unfurl, mostly to delicious unexpected twists.
The first story of ‘The Painting’ highlights many of the writing elements that makes ‘Encounters’ such a great collection. The story begins in the middle of an art show along with an artist called Carrie. This supposedly understated opening quickly becomes a story centred on deceit, and a conflict with no possibility of resolution as Carrie’s actions cause irreparable damage to her marriage. This story, like the majority in the book, is told in the third person. This stylistic technique, which can seem rather distant at times, works perfectly for the stories.
Fred Rohn had a particular interest not only in observing and documenting conflict in relationships but also wanted to show an element of reconciliation in some of the pieces.
This is particularly evident in ‘Doc Brunner’ which is set in a small town in America during World War II. The era is beautifully captured as is the tension of the society at the time as the pastor becomes embroiled in a fight with the local council and bank in an attempt to save his church from foreclosure. His actions, sometimes verging on those of a showman, win new supporters amongst the youth, especially as Doc Brunner also seeks to ease the town’s restrictive rules regarding their freedom to socially meet-up.
There is a quiet, under-stated feeling to all the stories and this is particularly true in ‘Reunion Deals’. Here the sneaky and egotistic nature of Harry Long is brilliantly revealed and one cannot help but be pleased for the long-term deceit he has endured and will continue to experience.
A variety of locally divisive issues are tackled by Fred Rohn, and one of bullying is sensitively handled in ‘The Piano Recital’. Where many earlier stories feature adults, here 12-year-old Jeremy Twitchell is relentlessly bullied by Bill Parsons. With the help of a piano teacher, a music concert and a surprise suggestion by Jeremy a rewarding and heart-moving reconciliation is achieved.
A few stories centre around the hiring and firing of staff … in itself a most unlikely topic for short stories! However, these are all terrific reads and as usual I was hooked! The lack of empathy and understanding of certain characters is conveyed with expertise.
Two of my favourite stories are slightly unusual. ‘Bicycle’ is deceptively simple in itself with hidden depths and is profoundly moving and full of wisdom as a younger brother is helped by his morose older brother. ‘The Old Man’ is uniquely centred on just one character who remains nameless throughout. In a series of everyday situations his confusion, loneliness is shown as he fails to comprehend his own state and merrily signs up for a most unusual course!
I am particularly struck by the last two pieces in the book – which I assume are autobiographical. Both these are in the close first person. ‘My Red Bible’ is a personal essay about a red-covered bible which was received on the 17th birthday. This thoughtful and reflective piece takes us from Fred’s travels and musing, showing how important this gift has been to him over the years.
‘Reincarnation – Chance Encounters with The Past’ is a wonderful finale to ‘Encounters’. In this eerie work the writer describes the visits from the departed, particularly from his mother. Bizarrely in some of the visions she has adapted to the modern world, even to the extent of checking emails and using an iPhone! Whilst the author longed for a hello from his mother, the readers can only hope that Fred Rohn was aware that his written work is a testament to his mother’s belief: ‘She always said that imagination and intellectual curiosity were two of most important attributes one could possess.’
Finally, it was with deep sadness I learnt that Fred Rohn passed away earlier this month. As some of you know, his daughter Barbara Vitelli at Book Club Mom helped him on his publishing journey. My sincere condolences to both Barbara and her family.
This was just the perfect book for a cold and wintry Easter holiday! Set in the warmth of Egypt towards the end of the 19th-century, I soon found myself basking in the heat of the rich descriptions of Alexandria of 1891 as the city was brought vividly to life. Quickly I found myself immersed in not only the wonderfully exotic locations, which are lavishly described but I also found myself wrapped up in the lives and drama of the characters.
The first of these is a new arrival to Alexandria. Although born in the city, Olivia left fifteen years earlier following the tragic death of her parents. Her paternal grandmother, who always resented her mother, sought revenge by abandoning her youngest granddaughter in a lonely and uncaring convent school in England, whilst raising Olivia’s sister, Clara herself.
At last the two sisters are reunited in their beloved city; both married to two men linked through their business. Olivia has effectively been coerced into a marriage with Alistair Sheldon, despite her misgivings … fears soon to be proved all too real. Generally disliked by those around him, few would believe the depth of Alistair’s cruel and violent nature. In contrast Clara’s marriage to Jeremy is happier, safer with two young sons, however she is distracted and distraught.
Secrets abound within the idyllic city and within all the relationships and soon Olivia too has to hide her close friendship to a certain Captain Edward Bertram (Teddy) who lodges in their house. The attraction between the two is palpable and intense although Olivia will not allow herself to act on her feelings.
The pivotal moment in the book is the sudden disappearance of Clara. As the book counts up the days thereafter, the intrigue only deepens and embroils everyone – apart from Olivia who desperately wants to find her sister. Ostensibly the novel is told through the third-person point of view, but obliquely from Olivia’s, thereby ensuring the reader feels her pain, confusion, fear. Just as Olivia attempts to unravel the mystery with the investigative help of Teddy, her friends and the police, so the reader seeks comprehension of the myriad of events.
Olivia’s strong spirit and determination grows as the dramatic and heart-wrenching story unfurls with secrets overflowing and for some reason seems to revolve around the ‘accidental’ death of a local mother. Everything seems to be connected but how?
Furthermore, the undercurrent of revolution permeates throughout the book and the historical elements are skilfully interwoven with the fictional.
The final tense chapters are spell-binding and relentless. I highly recommend this superb novel.
I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review.
‘Myrtle the Purple Turtle’ is one of the most striking, original children’s books released in recent years.
I was immediately drawn in by the welcoming cover of Myrtle proudly striding along and quickly became engaged with this wonderful character.
As a purple turtle, Myrtle has never considered herself any different from the other turtles and is happy and confident in her life. Until one day a rude turtle laughs and taunts her for even daring to consider herself a turtle.
What follows next is a touching and tender story to which we can all relate when faced with inconsiderate hurtful comments. As Myrtle sets out on a journey of self-discovery and understanding…with some help from her mother and friends along the way, she learns to accept herself and others.
I quickly lost myself within Myrtle’s world and empathised with her hurt and confusion … cheering her on as this feisty creature sought deeper understanding.
The language of the book flows with ease and it is well written in brief sentences, which are kept lively with the use of direct speech. Children and adults alike will be enraptured by Myrtle and captivated by her story.
The illustrations are the crowning glory of this book – they are superbly and deftly drawn with a huge emotional impact and are visually appealing. The drawings, which are vibrant and luscious, are fun and often cheeky; I couldn’t stop giggling at the image of the two head-butting turtles. The illustrations and story blend seamlessly together to lift the story onto a deeper level, exploring the themes of what makes us unique and ultimately learning to embrace ourselves and others. As Cynthia Reyes herself says ‘Love Your Shell’.
I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Myrtle the Purple Turtle’ and it is an entertaining and uplifting book which deserves to be on every child’s bookcase…it is one they (and you) will happily return to time and again.
I received a free no obligation preview copy of this book from the author and this is my honest unbiased review.
After reading a series of intensive, high-octane thrillers in the past weeks, Jill Weatherholt’s’Second Chance Romance’ proved just the tonic I needed to relax and return to earth.
In this heart-warming novel published by Harlequin Love Inspired, Jackson Daughtry, a single father of five-year-old Rebecca, one morning comes to the rescue of Melanie Harper. She hit a tree whilst swerving to avoid a deer and Jackson’s paramedic skills come to good use as he helps her out of the car and then to the hospital. From this very first meeting, their lives are interwoven and irrevocably changed.
Melanie is the niece of the very popular Phoebe Austin, Jackson’s business partner to the local cafe The Bean and since the death of his parents, Phoebe has been like family to him. Melanie wants her aunt to move with her to Washington, DC., which causes conflict for everyone concerned.
As a divorce attorney in the capital Melanie is a city girl through and through. However, the tragedy which struck her life a year earlier had resulted in her retreating into herself in the isolated, uncaring environment of urban life. When faced with the beauty and wondrous landscape of idyllic and harmonious Sweet Gum in the Shenandoah Valley she gradually opens up emotionally. The setting becomes an intrinsic part of the novel and the friendly, caring attitude of the community is sensitively and memorably portrayed.
The novel is told in the third person switching with ease and skill between the two main protagonists and ultimately allowing us closer access to their thoughts and feelings.
Being a romantic novel, the frisson between Jackson and Melanie is at the core of the story; its intensity and the continual emotional rollercoaster between them makes this a most compelling, addictive read. Whilst attracted to each other, they deny these feelings to themselves as differences over many issues makes any future seem untenable. Just as Melanie comes out of the hospital, Aunt Phoebe suffers a stroke and whilst she recuperates, the running of the cafe falls to Melanie and Jackson. The past haunts them both more than ever when faced with working together each day and confronting their traumas.
Having been left to raise his daughter four years earlier when he was abandoned by his wife, Jackson finds it difficult to trust anyone. Meanwhile, Melanie is still lost to herself and the world following overwhelming grief…a tragedy that is only slowly revealed. Whilst Jackson finds solace in his faith, Melanie lost hers.
Faith is one of several deep and thought-provoking themes examined and woven into the narrative. Grief, fear, forgiveness and love are all seamlessly arced across the novel and hidden within the more everyday events. These include such gentle, seemingly inconsequential happenings such as a fair, apple picking, picnic and baking, which are all exquisitely described and very much part of the homily Mills & Boon genre. Numerous sub-plots such as the menacing return of woman long since disappeared and the romantic possibilities for Aunt Phoebe bolster the main story.
For me the star of this book is Rebecca, Jackson’s daughter – she instantly won a place in my heart! Her warm loving personality, belief and innate wisdom is brilliantly captured and helps unravel the darkness of sorrow within Melanie; I can just imagine the powerful impact of the hugs from this little girl. The reader’s instant affection for Rebecca only heightens the tension and drama as she faces danger and the possibility of being lost to them forever.
Although an easy read with a welcome escapist element, this is a well-crafted and written novel with a perfect fusion of romance and drama; I quickly became engrossed in the lives of all the characters and I didn’t want to leave my new friends as the novel came to an end.