Wednesday, February 23, 2011

First Look: Getting To Know "The Clearing"

I'm really excited to be posting today. My friend and fellow author Anne Riley, who has been a wonderful support to me since my first novel was published last year, has just announced the release of her own first published novel "The Clearing" and already, it is garnering a significant buzz in the indie community.

Anne Riley's journey has been a joy to observe over the past couple of years. She is living a blissful life in Birmingham, Alabama. Anne has just welcomed her first child into the world with her husband wonderful husband Rob and is quite the Spanish teacher to boot. In fact Anne herself describes herself "as an author of young adult fiction disguised as a high school Spanish teacher".

As a kind of longish side note, I was really quite taken by Birmingham whilst watching Stephen Fry's wonderful journey through the United States in "Stephen Fry In America". Birmingham was also home to the late Glenn Shadix, who some of you may remember from Tim Burton's "Beetlejuice" in which he played Otho. Shadix had a beautiful home in Birmingham, whose architecture was just sublime - a typically southern style which I just adore. 

So onto "The Clearing" and what it's all about.

From the synopsis we find a young girl struggling at a crossroads in her life. Natalie Watson doesn’t believe the reports about the way her parents died. In fact, she’s not sure she believes in much of anything these days. But after moving from her home in Georgia to her aunt’s boarding school in Maine, solving the mystery of her parents’ deaths is just one of several things on her mind. When she’s not fending off attacks from the popular kids or taking refuge in the pages of a novel, she ponders the rumors circulating about a certain boy in her math class… a boy with fiery red hair who never speaks to anyone.

Despite suspicions that he may have murdered his sister a year earlier, Natalie finds it impossible to stay away from Liam Abernathy – especially when he confesses to knowing something about her parents. Soon she’s following him into the forest, where things happen she doesn’t understand… things that shouldn’t be possible….

As Liam’s story unfolds, Natalie realizes she’s more connected to him than she ever thought – and not everyone she counts as a friend can be trusted.

"The Clearing" promises to be an immediately engaging work, suspenseful and driven by strong chracterization and plot that is clearly evident in Anne's short story work I've had the pleasure to read.

Anne's genius in her writing style is that she doesn't take her target audience - young adults - for granted, nor does her writing speak down to them. Anne has an almost balleretic skill in crafting intelligent tome, engaging and absorbing plot and fully formed characterizations that give the reader a sense of clarity in the protagonists and antagonists whilst at the same time encouraging the reader to peel back the layers for themselves as they read. Anne also encourages the reader to become almost interactive in the story, rather than just be a passive observer of it. This, I think, is one of those essential ingredients in a really great book and, despite what Anne might say about her cooking prowess - that does not extend to her ability to cook up a storm on the page.

I truly believe that "The Clearing" promises to be one of the books to look out for in 2011 and I strongly recommend that you add it to your must read list.

With an official release date of March 1st, "The Clearing" can be purchased from Amazon's Kindle Store, SmashWords and Anne's own CreateSpace portal. Keep up with all of Anne's goings on at her site Anne Riley Books.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Molly Taught Me Some Wonderful Things.

What Scotland Taught MeWhat Scotland Taught Me by Molly Ringle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A number of years ago, I traveled through South East Asia and at the time, it seemed that everyone of my age was reading "The Beach". It was required reading, particularly among the back packers and the bohemians on the Islands of Koh Samui and Phuket. I read that book like everyone else and it occupies a special place in my library as much for the memories of my traveling as the book itself - which I stress I enjoyed immensely.

In that same vein, I firmly believe that Molly Ringle's "What Scotland Taught Me" should be added to that list of 'the book' that every care free young traveler, about to embark on a journey of discovery in the UK, should have on their device or in their travel bag.

From the Author's description we find fresh out of high school, student Eva Sonneborn heading to Scotland with her best friends: scholarly, sarcastic Laurence; gorgeous, ghost-seeing Amber; and responsible, sweet Shannon. They plan to spend the next six months in Edinburgh, enjoying an adventure-filled work-abroad journey before parting ways for college.

But when Eva meets Gil, a local bartender, she figures a little innocent flirting won't hurt her relationship with Tony, her ever-faithful boyfriend back home. But just when things turn less innocent with Gil, the trip starts throwing curveballs at not only her but her friends too. By the end of the trip, they've all fallen in love, sometimes with the wrong people - and with consequences that may tear their friendship apart forever...

What Scotland Taught Me typifies the modern 20 something life experience writ large and features the classic must have locale in Edinburgh. The story immediately transports the reader, putting one into the very environment of Edinburgh and you can instantly imagine the sounds and the smells and the romance of the city as though you were actually there. Ringle's writing style has a musicality about it and she sets up scenes and places with a deft hand that has a touch of artistry about it. The core characters too, are all well fleshed out. They are attractive, appealing and their individual journeys unfold in a satisfying way. There is nothing contrived in this story - the interactions are real, scenes visually satisfying the conversations are imbued with Molly's intelligent voice. You experience each of the characters to the point where they become your friends.

What Scotland Taught Me is a coming of age story that is fresh, romantic and it has a soul. This should be at the top of your list for your Kindle device.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Discovering The Tortoise Collar.

I had this whole other post I was going to write this fact - I've had several posts lined up over the past few weeks but I haven't had the heart or the mind to write them. I've lost the drive for writing just at the moment - something which is depressing me a lot. But other things have taken over which are far and away more important - and saddening right now.

We finally got an answer to the mystery that has been our daughter's crooked neck this past week. Those of you who visit my site regularly may recall a couple of posts I wrote last year when we first began observing a distressing head tilt and generalized stiffness in our infant daughter. The symptoms became all the more alarming when Lucy started having long periods of neck stiffness and visible discomfort that would last for several weeks at a time before abating somewhat. She would enjoy a short period of relative freedom before relapsing into these episodes again.

Over the Christmas period, we began to notice that Lucy's sleep patterns were broken by these terrible seizures that would come out of no-where and cause her to jerk and spasm for long periods of time before settling too. They'd occasionally happen during waking hours but they were much more visible at night. Suffice to say, it's been bloody awful to watch.

Well, after seeing a neurologist in Adelaide, who specializes in children, we came away with a rather distressing diagnosis - benign paroxysmal torticollis of infancy. The disorder is so rare that, in the words of our neurologist, he has seen maybe one case in six years.

This syndrome usually becomes apparent from the age of about six months - right at the time that many infants are beginning to hold their head up on their own. It is characterized by the alarming head tilt which, in itself is problematic because it pulls the musculature of the head and neck out of sync, resulting in associated problems that require physiotherapy to correct. We are told that the reason for this head tilt is because Lucy is experiencing severe migraine headaches - severe enough that they cause her considerable pain and exhaust her easily. Along with these headaches are pallor, sweating and generalized stiffness, poor sleep and in some cases seizures. Treatment for the symptoms is limited and sufferers of it don't readily respond to pain relieving medication, partucularly in the case of the migraines.

Now the real kicker with this syndrome - lets call it BPTI since wanky monikers are often given over for the sake of brevity - is that we can expect Lucy to have to deal with it up until the age of 5 years, after which time it should taper off to nothing and Lucy should be okay.

Should be okay...

So in the meantime Lucy has to endure these extended periods of suffering and there isn't a hell of a whole lot we can do to alleviate her pain.

BPTI is one of those syndromes for which not much is known about it. It is part of a family of benign (an oxy-fucking-moron if I ever saw one) neurological disorders in children that have no apparent causative factor and just seem to pick their subjects randomly. Of course, medicos take grwat pains to stress the benign part of the descriptor but when a parent is holding their infant daughter in their arms and she is seizing as though attached to a faulty electrical cable, screaming in pain - there is nothing fucking benign about it.

It's not all bad though. Lucy remains a blissfully happy child with a mischevious streak which is becoming apparent - even on her bad days. She is hitting her milestones as we would expect and, although developmental delays are a concern with BPTI, we are hopeful that Lucy will be okay. If anything, it has served to strengthen our resolve to be as attentive to her developmental needs as we can.

In the meantime, we continue to see a physiotherapist who specializes in children and who has a wealth of experience with the singular phenomenon of torticollis (the neck part). By keeping Lucy's neck muscles supple, we're hoping to prevent any lasting damage to her neck. We also intend to explore some alternative treatment modalities which will complement the treatment she has had thus far. Whilst I'm wary of many of these so called therapies, I don't discount for a moment the value of some of the more universally respected Eastern modalities which have proven effective.

I've shed tears - more than a few these past few weeks and I have struggled to absorb the diagnosis with all it's ramifications for the near-term. I'm angry, grief stricken, powerless to intervene or to protect her from the awful pain Lucy goes through each time things get bad.

And yet...

Encouragement and hope have come from the most unlikely of places.

Whilst conducting a round one evening, last week, on the block at the prison I have been nursing at, I was overcome by emotion and struggled to regain my composure for fear of being laid bare in front of the "guests". As I was tending to a fairly notorious character, giving out his medications and checking his charts, he rather uncharacteristically patted my arm and said quietly, even knowingly "Everything will be okay son". Our eyes met and for the briefest of moments, I saw in his compassion and hope - commodities that in a place like that, are uncharacteristic gems.

So the Tortoise Collar has been discovered. We hold it reluctantly.