‘Home’ by Thomas Overlook – Review

Unique and intriguing. A page-turning tale that’ll take readers down the rabbit hole of what’s there and what isn’t…

Its quite difficult to pin point what this story is really about and how deep it goes, but for the majority I was addicted and kept reading to see where it went. To me, that’s a job done well and driven by that immersive intrigue, Thomas Overlook tells the story of a young couple who decide to start again away from the hustle and bustle of city life with their infant child. Then events start to turn strange.

There’s a multitude of different themes and things going on here, some are more obvious and on the surface while others go deeper. Much of the book is taken up by the inner workings of ‘Joel’ and ‘Aubrey’ or their memories but we are only shown and told so much to the point where everything seems to have a kind of surreal feel – this is a complex but imaginative set up for a book because the events that do happen gradually unfold while we find out only limited information about these two characters. The concept of what’s on the surface and what’s beneath starts to blend and uniquely the organisation which ‘Joel’ works for is deliberately omitted, something some readers may frown upon but an original concept and there is a heap of originality here. ‘Aubrey’ seems to have this kind of lustful subconsciousness while also perhaps hiding something. These characters aren’t fully revealed to the reader which only increases that intrigue.

Soon after moving into their new and remote house weird things begin to unfold. Is this an elaborate prankster or perhaps even a haunting? this is after ‘Joel’ may have unleashed something or at least stirred it. What ‘it’ is, we never really get an answer but it points towards something that lurks beneath the surface literally and psychologically. Is what ‘Joel’ appears to be seeing actually there or not? Could we actually be in the company of something that has always been there but is only awakened if disturbed? Rational thought begins to blend with the irrational as he tries to investigate what really is going on. Has ‘Joel’ really unleashed something that feels like its hunting him and his family?

“He was terrified but not mortally. It was a queer feeling, deep fear tinged with a silken sadness…”

Cause and effect comes into play here as these events put a strain on the couple. This has all the makings to suggest there is another lifeform amongst us but that is only really suggested – that’s what this book made me feel anyway and I am intrigued to see where it goes as this appears to only be part 1 of a wider series. You might not get any answers this time but the reading experience was entertaining overall and full of enough mysterious intrigue to at least entertain more of this immersive deep writing style and story. For those looking to have a lighter reading escape or even those who don’t enjoy deep thought this might not be the one for you, but those who enjoy complex stories that are open to wider interpretation then this is the one for you. It’s definitely one of the most unique reads I have come across in recent times.

4 Stars – An encapsulating and page turning read. This review first premiered on Reedsy Discovery.

Why I Wrote ‘The Deep Space Between’ by Cassandra Stirling

Why I Wrote The Deep Space Between

One of the first things I did before I started writing my novel, The Deep Space Between, is write my inspiration story. My why-I’m-writing-this-book story. This is what I wrote. I’m sharing it because it says a lot about me, the writer, and the journey I’m on. It also foreshadows many of the imposter syndrome setbacks I’d have (am still having) with writing and sharing my writing.

And, it answers that age-old question: when did you know you wanted to write?

Let me take you way, way back

As a kid, I always had stories running through my head. If I wasn’t acting them out with my stuffed animals, I was laying in bed or the grass with an internal movie playing out whatever theme was the flavor of the day.

I also wrote stories — not at home because why do that when it could play out in my head without handwriting to slow it down — but in school, specifically during our weekly library sessions with the librarian, Mrs. Barzinski.

Mrs. Barzinksi was an odd woman. She wore clogs, big round plastic glasses, clunky wooden beaded necklaces, heavy wool sweaters in winter, and white cotton gloves. Her thick wool sweaters had the telltale bumps of her breasts somewhere near her stomach, which earned them the nickname Barzinski boobs, and served as a cautionary tale for all the girls to make sure they wore bras.

In those weekly sessions, the table at which we sat was split. One end featured those students who listened to the chapter of the current book we were all reading, headphones twice the size of Princess Leia’s braid buns clamped to their heads. Mrs. Barzinki’s voice read out the most recent chapter; at the end, she included a prompt for a story topic. We then had 20 minutes to write a story about that prompt.

At the other end, the students read the story out loud and she taped us. Similar to the ginormous headphones — this was the ’80s after all — the recording device was massive. It contained two tape reels fastened to the top. When she turned it on, there was a distinctive “thunk.” I can still hear it today.

Every week, she put the best-written stories on the wall outside of the library with an A and then numerous pluses after it big fat red marker at the top of it.

At the end of the year, the students who had the best writing, aka the most pluses, got a prize — always books — for their efforts.

In my sixth grade year, I was in an unstated competition with my best friend, Jenny Simeon, over the total number of pluses we’d get on those stories. Some weeks I won, but most weeks she did. I always came second when I didn’t win, but it was never enough. Jenny was smart, funny, creative, and well-liked. I was awkward, wore outdated hand-me-downs (which I loved), and quiet.

We were really good friends. Outside of school was the requisite sleepover. During school, we’d hang out on the monkey bars (until some dummy got hurt and they banned them), making up stories.

Sometimes they were based on Greek myths (I was Athena, always) and sometimes on characters we created, like Ricky and Katie (I was Katie, she was Ricky). We even wrote and put on a play for our 4th-grade class (9-year-olds).

We were enmeshed in our creativity without even trying. And yet, I still competed with her. I wanted to win that content — to be the best writer in the school.

But I didn’t. Jenny did.

As I watched her walk up to accept her prize — the full set of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books we’d read that year — I had mixed feelings. I definitely did not want that prize, because I hated those books. Who needs to know how to build a bed peg by peg? Not this girl. But I also really wanted to be as creative as Jenny was and I failed. I sucked. I wasn’t good enough. It didn’t matter that I came in second out of my entire 90+ student class.

I didn’t beat Jenny.

The in-between years

Fast forward through my life, where writing wasn’t a feature because I obviously wasn’t any good at it coming second place to someone I looked up to when I was twelve. I still had stories running through my head and often used them as a means to fall asleep when my brain wouldn’t shut off from the day. But I never wrote them down.

And then in 2009, after getting laid off from my publishing job, I decided I was going to write something down. The book I wrote was based on a dream in a post-apocalyptic world.

Most of my stories are extensions of my dreams, but this one had a lot of rich details to it that were used to get the ball rolling.

In November, still unemployed but freelancing to be able to eat, I participated in NaNoWriMo, which is a challenge to write the 50,000 first draft ugly awful words of a book. And I did it. I wrote 50,000 words and my book was born.

My main character, Jenna, was smart, sarcastic, and funny; she was also incredibly isolated, an outsider, and a person who never saw her impact on the people around her. It took me 5 years to finish it, picking it up and putting it down at random moments in time. But eventually, I finished it.

At the time, I had taken a science fiction and fantasy writing class at the local university. Part of the class requirement was to read out five pages of your book. The same week it was my turn to read I had had a job interview. I was more nervous to read those pages than anything else I’d done in life, including that interview.

My classmates liked the content, but I was bombarded with questions on where the people came from, how did the food get made, where did the clothing come from. I couldn’t answer any of these questions, because I forgot to build the world while building the book. I had no idea where it came from; to me, it wasn’t relevant to the narrative. But to the readers, it most definitely was.

My husband did some research as to how much water and power my New City of York needed. He did amazing work on it and tried to help me build the world, but it was so overwhelming, I couldn’t face it. Once the class ended, I shelved the book.

Fast forward to the present

The idea for my current book, The Deep Space Between, came to me while I was writing my other poorly titled Apocalypse Girl book. And it wasn’t a dream, but an idea born out of another daydream, featuring a girl with a boogeyman riding shotgun in her body.

A girl who was an outsider, who was isolated, who felt unloved and separate from everyone else. A girl who never saw the impact she had on the people around her.

Once I realized I’d written, or started writing, two books about the same type of girl, I took a long hard look at myself. I realized I was them, they were me, just in different settings and circumstances. I had a story that needed to be told and I was the person to tell it.

This book is born out of two fears: I’m not good enough to write an engaging story; and, it wouldn’t have any impact on anyone even if I did. But I’m done competing with my 12-year-old self (since it was never about Jenny Simeon anyway).

I’m ready to see the impact I could have, or my character will have, on the world around her as she navigates the story and potentially learns more about my impact on my world in the process.

And that’s good enough for me.

Thank you to author Cassandra Stirling for sharing her inspiring story that led to the release of ‘The Deep Space Between’ which is available now.

About the Book:

Seraphina Lastra Covington had never planned to set foot in the Magical Community of Merricott, New Hampshire again. When she reluctantly returns after a twelve-year absence, she finds that the town has changed: the bustling square she once knew is quiet, and a Magic Wielding child has gone missing. It is not until she starts heeding advice from the voice inside of her head that she realizes everything in her childhood home is not as it seems.

About the Author:

Cassandra Stirling’s entire career revolves around language. She has worked in the fields of law, publishing, and marketing; writing a book seemed like a natural progression. In 2020, her husband noted that, while Cassandra’s childhood dream job was to be a writer, she “was not a writer,” as “she didn’t write.”

She proved him wrong by writing her debut novel The Deep Space Between.

When she’s not writing or working, Cassandra can be found playing video games, reading, cross-stitching, or generally figuring out how to fit all of her life into the seventeen hours a day she’s not sleeping.

The Story of my First Story

Introducing Gary Kruse who tells the story of his story…

Gary Kruse - Author

A Cautionary Tale of Hope and Naivety

A long time ago (1996 I think?) in a bedroom not so far away (about three and a half miles away from where I live now), a teenage boy decided to put pen to paper for the first time.

Twenty-five years later that same boy is still writing and finally, after a quarter of a century (on and off) of trying, I’m finally seeing my work in print and online.

This year has been my most successful writing year ever, but the road to where I am now starts way back at the end of the last century.

It’s Robin Tunney’s fault, you see. Well, her, Fairuza Balk and Keifer Sutherland.

For those who don’t know, Robin Tunney and Fairuza Balk were rival witches in teen horror flick, “The Craft.”

I went to see the Craft when it came out in the cinema…

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‘Wonder Rush’ by Dan McKeon – Review

An immersive and suspenseful teen spy thriller with some darker edges, a positive message, originality and depth…

Dan McKeon delivers an immersive and suspenseful tale of one teen assassin who has always followed orders and never questioned those giving them. When things don’t go to plan ‘Wendy’ finds herself facing a rabbit hole of questions as she deciphers what’s good and bad while coming to her own conclusion. It’s part- coming-of-age part-morality check as the ‘agency’ giving the orders begin to reveal themselves as not so reputable.

Through the multiple missions and names she takes ‘Wendy’ begins to realise even if you eliminate bad people, there will always be someone else innocent effected by it. That is without mentioning if the target even is bad in the first place.

“Even those who do bad things have people who care about them, and their loss effects them…”

There’s a certain depth to that morality where choice and accountability of one’s actions make you as a reader question everything. It’s immersive and dark sometimes – death always is but our main character keeps things light hearted and you find yourself rooting for her because she is a force for good. You can give a person all the assassin training in the world and try to engineer out all human elements but they are still human and perhaps that message is at the centre of a great story that I took my time reading.

While there are plenty of concepts that are original and they merge with others that we’ve seen before in spy thrillers; it’s always the abandoned warehouse for a meeting point but the bubble gum idea is genius and of course fun. Although there is some violence there isn’t anything too graphic so I’d recommend this book to older teens and above and to anyone who enjoys a spy thriller with a difference. Highly enjoyable.

5 Stars – This Review First Premiered via Reedsy Discovery

‘From Voiceless to Vocal’ by Danielle Larsen – Review

Candid, brave and ultimately inspirational…

While many of the subjects in this memoir aren’t easy to talk about, Danielle Larsen delivers her story flawlessly and highlights the moments and events of a journey that makes for a gripping read. In this day and age the subject of mental health needs to be talked about more and this book does that. Being wrongly diagnosed at a young age ultimately paves the way for Larsen’s struggles while the main bulk of the story focuses on her being in a relationship with an abusive controlling partner. For much of the time it’s frustrating to see the abuse that unfolds – why can’t she just leave? Unfortunately it’s a little more complex than that and part of the journey is understanding that it’s hard to leave sometimes and breaking those shackles is difficult when the circumstances of gaslighting and emotional abuse are present.

“Normal does not have to mean good or comfortable, but simply what one gets used to…”

This book acts as guide in some senses to spread awareness while also informing others. The narration style feels natural and relays every moment with dignity and there are some moments when you cannot help but feel for a person who has been through so much – a lot of it wasn’t even her fault and you just want her to succeed in the end. There are even some brighter moments later on which highlight finding inspiration from musical theatre and how we all need to find something for emotional release. For Danielle Larson to share a memoir like this it’s incredibly brave and ultimately inspirational because the message is no matter how many chips are down you can always come back, there’s always hope and survival is probably the greatest gift we have.

5 Stars – A gripping and touching well-written read that bravely shares so much. Reviews left via Amazon and Goodreads.

The stories that inspire us – ‘Timeline’

Hello friends, today’s re-blog is a timely one as it has been exactly a year since I began a new series of posts highlighting and celebrating the stories that inspired me. Seeing as my audience has grown in that time I thought I would share it again.

The deeper meaning to this one leads into marketing and my best advice for bloggers and writers is to always have more content for readers to invest in..

Lee's Hall of information

The stories we read, see and hear sometimes leave a lasting effect on our lives. Stories inspire us to be who we are. They shape our own journey and can take the mind anywhere. There are some stories that effect us so much, they even shape our future…

Welcome to a new series that hopes to give insight to some of the stories I have experienced that shaped me and my writing. Many of them I hold close to my heart and some you may end up taking on as recommendations. Without the stories in this series I would not be here today!

Although this series will cover stories from all mediums it starts with a book that might possibly be one of the most important I have ever read. This is the story of destiny and how I came to find a story called Timeline. 

I grew up near…

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The stories that inspire us – Half-Life

The stories we read, see and hear sometimes leave a lasting effect on our lives. Stories inspire us to be who we are. They shape our own journey and can take the mind anywhere. There are some stories that effect us so much, they even shape our future…

Growing up in the 90’s means that I’ve been witness to some incredible technological advances throughout my life. Video games in particular literally leaped from 16 bit all the way to 64 in a matter of years, but that’s just talking about numbers. The experience of a story is what resonates through us all and one particular story that I first discovered all the way back in 1999 still resonates through me. I’m talking about Half-Life and yes I am one of the people who played it quite soon after release at 10 years old.

TOP 30 BEST Video Games of the 90s (BEST RETRO GAMES) | Chaos - YouTube

Back then parents didn’t really take much note of game ratings and I’m not sure there even was anything strict to really regulate them at the time. Summer holidays consisted of being out all day and then watching the likes of South Park at night or the late movie which again probably had an age rating, there wasn’t a snowflake in sight and well most of my generation turned out okay…

And then this game came along that was included in one of my friends brand new Dell PC’s. It carried an air of mystery as neither of us had heard about it back then and so we went in to Half-Life totally and completely blind. By that year, ’99, the concept of a first person shooter game was relatively fresh from the birth of the genre earlier that decade with Wolfenstein paving the way to Doom, Quake, Duke Nukem, Alien Trilogy and even Goldeneye for the N64. all of which, deserve a nod. Neither of us knew then what we were getting into.

Lifetime fans such as myself sometimes forget that Half-Life is a first person shooter game because the story is so rich and immersive from the very start – something rare for the era and so after installing this game we began.

Games slowly immerse you these days through a sometimes cinematic sequence where very little is required to do other than get a feel for the environment or what is to come. You have the makers of Half-Life to thank for that as early on, in fact for the first half hour of the game and after what appears to be a calm and very visual but solitary train ride commute, you are Gordon Freeman, theoretical physicist who is late for an experiment.

Half-Life 1 Train Ride - YouTube

This clever but immersive way of starting the game heightens the sense of weight for a situation which is about to unfold. You are late for work and rushing around – something many of us can relate to. You are introduced to other scientists who also work at this extensive Black Mesa Research Facility. The sense of mystery is overloaded while you are unaware of a sinister build up to this experiment which subsequently goes wrong and then the real game begins…

The experiment gone wrong results in something called a resonance cascade and as you the player are in the test chamber when it unfolds. You see just a snippet of what has been unleashed. Another world full of primitive creatures has began to merge with the one of Black Mesa and Freeman must now fight his way through a heavily damaged work environment to look for answers and try and clean things up.

It’s part Stephen King part alien blasting shooter because eventually Freeman comes across allies and enemies who are human as a cover up attempt begins. The army is brought in and so this trifecta of scientists, aliens and soldiers collide, yet you remain silent throughout the unique set up. There are no cut scenes, no level finishes, no speaking from the most iconic game character in modern times, he is the silent crusader working his way through the puzzling hazards of a huge science facility sometimes armed to the teeth and then just with a crowbar. Of course watching the whole thing is a thin man holding a briefcase who appears every so often, a presence now known as G-man. All of these concepts were unique and were never done until Half-Life. Apart from those now iconic loading screens this game just runs from start to finish.

Half-Life on Steam

As a 10 year old kid, this game had a resounding effect on me. That first play through is something I will always treasure and now in modern times and as a person who works in a huge science facility with radiation hazards, cutting edge technology and of course plenty of scientists; I can’t help but think that Half -Life inspired that journey in some senses.

My debut novel carries similar traits that you’ll find in Half-Life, especially the concept of soldiers arriving after everything falls to shit. This game and its setting, story and concept was something that had never been seen before and dare I say it, has ever been successfully emulated. The story stands the test of time and was expanded upon for the subsequent sequels but this one, stands above them all.

Have you played Half-Life?

Weekly Ramble #80

They are going to knock down my old high school. This is a fact that I have recently learned which is both bitter and sweet at the same time for me. The pandemic has presented many opportunities for deep reflection, time on our hands will do that and it’s sometimes important to revisit things with the eyes and mind you’ve grown into.

Many people over the years have relayed or recalled their school days as either mostly positive or straight up terrible while others stand somewhere in between. I’m still processing today that the school I went to and the experiences I had may have been of the worst possible persuasion.

The truth is, that place took years for me to fully recover from. During those years after, I came to realize that there were normal people in this world that you could mostly trust, share real conversations with and generally function as a person alongside. So was it really that bad you ask? And my response would be, yes.

Not only is the concept of high school a mostly regressive thing to me; throw together a bunch of hormonal kids all at different stages of being hormonal, drill into them conflicting information about how important preparing for the future is and then top it off with a pressure to fit in and also succeed.

If you combine that with the environment I had to endure you would most certainly agree and the ecosystem that I weathered and survived was socially hostile, violent and toxic. It was a place that I could never truly fit in or let alone dare to be myself. Today we celebrate being ourselves. Inclusion is celebrated and still a noble cause worth fighting for. Back in that place, you couldn’t wear certain clothes, listen to certain music, think a certain way or even look at someone the wrong way without being punished for it and sometimes that punishment was violent. If you ever thought of stepping outside from the current and flow, you were targeted by a stifling mob culture of kids.

Head down, voice quiet and just bide the time. This was the only method of survival in that place I knew how to adopt and even then you weren’t safe. Perhaps that is why wherever I have gone since, I’ve survived. My invisibility strategy was enough for me to stay mostly unscathed physically and for the most part I went through this journey without being noticed. As for today; I’m not remembered probably by most who I shared those narrow packed corridors with. They were people who I had nothing in common with and many of the less desirable types had socially peaked at 16, I guess I could live without being remembered by the likes of them.

The teachers, who didn’t help but as an adult I know now they couldn’t help. Many of them couldn’t relate and were probably horrified by the fact they were trying to answer their calling in life at such a place. They were trying to function and survive themselves in what was an every person for themselves environment. Over the years I was there (5 – trust me I was counting), the place became more and more unstable over that time. A combination of worse schools closing locally and a change in leadership interrupted the order of things. Now you had younger kids fighting older kids, and sometimes these younger kids would win which just spun the volatile environment around some more. A wider level of ‘Gotham’ style chaos began to ensue. There was no safety. There was fighting everyday. No wonder I took the world of working in my stride, the sensation of it was both refreshing and liberating. The civility of it, a culture shock to begin with.

Anyone going through the struggles of high school, or anyone who has been through it, you are not alone. And it does get better. Leaving it behind is both weirdly sad and happy all at once. Being a writer means I am seasoned at compartmentalizing and putting thoughts away. There is no trauma now, but I can still explore old memories to cope and reflect. There may just be a hint of bitterness because I never went to the prom by choice, or even had many decent memories of that time, let alone any true friends.

I no longer represent the shy, quiet, keeps things to himself kid, that was just a survival mechanism. Over the years I learned to socially come out of that defensive shell because the toxic environment of those narrow corridors has long gone. As that confidence grew and whatever that place did to me faded, I began to do everything in life that I would get punished for in that place. From the music I now listen to and embrace, to even the hairstyle I adopted just two years after that place’s grip on me faded. Some of this stuff I do is to stick my middle finger up to the fact I couldn’t do it back then. Everything I have aspired to be was once just an escape from that place, and now I am who I envisioned to be, well and truly and without the school that I survived.

Now I’ve learned the place is being knocked down I’m able to take a long breath of relief because even though on the 25th of August 2005 I vowed to never return to those corridors in physical form, I will never be able to now, for definite. Since I left, the place took an even bigger downturn before half re-branding. Now that brand looks to fully absolve itself perhaps from such a shadowy past with new modern building beside the proposed playing fields which will serve as simply a grave of the days I struggled alongside so many others.

After reading this, you’ll see Open Evening – my debut novel in a whole new light because that story highlights the social struggle of high school; something that came from my own personal journey. I fused that element of what I knew and fashioned it into a story for some and a statement for others. Maybe I knew all along while I walked through that place, one day I was going to get these fuckers back, and the book did. Like always for me, the writing says everything I never could.

It became both therapy and reflection for me as a writing experience with an element of realism among the actual monsters that jumped out from beyond the unknown. The school burned down in that story, and now in reality it’s going to fall for real.

Good riddance.

‘Magpie’ by Paul Jameson – Review

A quaint wonderfully written short.. 

Magpie by [Paul Jameson]

Magpie is a quaint and wonderfully written short by Paul Jameson who immerses readers from the get go with his unique folklore style. Having read it in just one sitting this story serves as just a snippet of the authors ability to tell stories that fuses classic and modern style description and composition. Having read his other work ‘Nightjar’ this book carries the same feeling and of course just an edge of darkness so readers who enjoy one will certainly enjoy the other.

From the note at the end it’s clear to see this story found the author in some sense while he was exploring a real place which heightens the immersive element of the setting. There’s a level of mystique about near enough everything including the history of what happened in this world and our own imaginations are given the scope to follow a story the author first followed. This is a story and reading experience that I highly recommend.

5 Stars – Magpie is currently Free to download and you can grab a copy here for a very limited time.

If you interested in reading more about Paul Jameson check out a very recent Hall of Information Interview I did with the him here; it’s a must read insight!