Backstories by Simon Van der Velde

Dreamers, singers, talkers and killers
; they can dazzle with their beauty or
their talent or their unmitigated evil, but inside themselves they are as frail
and desperate as the rest of us. But can you see them?
Can you unravel the
truth?
These are people you know, but not as you know them.
Peel back the mask and see.

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Backstories will be available on March 25th.

Backstories is smart and enigmatic, encouraging the reader to be involved. Author Simon Van der Velde combines history and fiction to create something entirely different- the surprising stories behind famous figures. Instead of the public persona we all know, the veneer is stripped away to show the utter humanness underneath.

Interestingly, Backstories isn’t set up in any way that is run-of-the-mill. This collection of short stories isn’t a simple “this is their past” sort of book. Instead, it’s a mystery. The reader has to solve the puzzle: who is each story about? I have to be honest and say that a couple stories completely stumped me. It was fascinating to try and match up new details with what is already known about a person. It added a level of realism to what have always been almost unreachable, exaggerated famous (or infamous) people.

The writing is engaging and easy to connect with. It’s quite obvious that author Simon Van Der Velde put a lot of time and research into his book, but he left just enough to the imagination to encourage me to do my own digging. The little Easter eggs that were left throughout were clever and added so much to the story.

I went into Backstories expecting to be entertained. Instead, I was sucked in and ended up being incredibly invested in the “who was” aspect. Expect an engrossing book, one that will keep you guessing.

Where to find Backstories:

Amazon: Backstories

Book Spotlight: Backstories by Simon Van Der Velde

Dreamers, singers, talkers and killers; they can dazzle with their beauty or  their talent or their unmitigated evil, but inside themselves they are as frail and desperate as the rest of us. But can you see them? Can you unravel the  truth? 
These are people you know, but not as you know them. 
Peel back the mask and see.

Author’s Quest:

“Whatever happened to all of the heroes”, The Stranglers 1977.

I was twelve years old when I first heard this song and although there was something in the feral tone that grabbed me, I didn’t really understand it. I do now. I get the angst, and the loss, and the emptiness, which is why, in Backstories, I aim to answer the question.

So join me on my quest, and together we’ll uncover the fears and passions and prejudices that made our heroes what they were, and perhaps catch a glimpse of ourselves along the way.

Whatever happened to all of the heroes?
They turned out to be human beings, in all their diverse glory.
Simon Van der Velde, January 2021

P.S. I am proud to be sharing 30% of all profits from Backstories with Friends of the Earth. Stop Hate UK, and The North-East Autism Society.
See simonvandervelde.com for further details.

About the author:

Simon Van der Velde has worked variously as a barman, labourer, teacher, caterer, and lawyer, as well as traveling throughout Europe and South America collecting characters and insights for his award-winning stories. Since completing a creative writing M.A. (with distinction) in 2010, Simon’s work has won and been shortlisted for numerous awards including: The Yeovil Literary Prize (twice), the Wasafiri New Writing Prize, the Luke Bitmead Bursary, the Frome Short-story Prize, the Hary Bowling Prize, The Henshaw Press Short Story Competition, and the National Association of Writers’ Groups Open Competition- establishing him as one of the UK’s foremost short-story writers.

Simon now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, with his wife, Nicola, their labradoodle, Barney, and two tyrannical children.

For the authors: thank you


I’ll start this post by saying the now overused phrase, it’s been a tough year. I kind of think that’s the unspoken assumption at this point: “I’m doing well” (considering it’s a tough year), or “It’s been a bad day” (in the middle of a tough year). The book community isn’t exempt from the “tough year” unfortunately. I could go into the nitty gritty, but smarter minds than mine have already done that. So, this one is for the authors: you are appreciated.

I know it must be a discouraging time for so many of you, either with news you might have received, or just with life in general. Being an author is not for the faint of heart. You do not have it easy. To take the words in your mind and share them with others requires a massive amount of bravery. It also requires being willing to relinquish a little bit of your vision, knowing that the reader will picture your characters differently in their mind than you do. That takes guts.

This year has been full of changes in schedules, jobs, and lifestyle. There has been worry, and there has been loss. I cannot tell you what a godsend it has been to be able to curl up with a book – either an old friend, or a new discovery – and leave it all behind for a bit. From familiar favorites such as Dragonlance and The Night Circus, to more recent favorites, like The Ventifact Colossus and The Devil and the Dark Water, these books have kept me calm(ish).

Authors, what you do is important. So, so important. You aren’t just writing words on a page. Rather, you are building an escape pod. Your words are reminding us that even though we’re all stuck in our homes bunker-style, we aren’t alone. Good still exists and so does hope, laughter, creativity, new worlds, and mystery.

So, THANK YOU. Thank you for all you do. Keep writing. We’ll keep reading.

With Love,

A Voracious Reader

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow- ARC Review

Amazon.com: The Once and Future Witches (9780316422048): Harrow ...

In the late 1800s, three sisters use witchcraft to change the course of history in a Hugo award-winning author’s powerful novel of magic amid the suffragette movement.
 
In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.
But when the Eastwood sisters — James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna — join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote — and perhaps not even to live — the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available on October thirteenth.

Do you know how sometimes people get so angry they feel like punching a wall? This book is the literary equivalent of punching a wall. It’s packed with the fury of women oppressed. And it works perfectly.

In Alix E. Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January, the prose flowed like a stream building into a river. It was beautiful and it took its time. The Once and Future Witches does not have that feel at all. Instead, it is told in staccato bursts of cause and effect. This book rose and fell like a giant wave. I’d take a breath-and get pulled under again.

The story follows three estranged witchy sisters. Juniper is the wild child, the one who starts it all. When she comes across both her sisters in New Salem, they are reunited, past baggage in tow. Never content to sit on the sidelines, Juniper jumps straight into the suffragist movement, from there doing her absolute best to make everyone and their dog mad. Juniper was unpredictable and interesting to read. I never knew what to expect from her character, only that it would cause trouble.

Beatrice is the middle child and the wise one. Books are her refuge (sound familiar, anyone?) and she is the researcher who makes sure the sisters have any knowledge they need. She is often unsure of herself. Really, she is her own worst enemy. Her story arc is quieter, but no less important. When the other sisters break down, she is there to pick up the pieces.

Agnes is a force to be reckoned with. It takes her quite a while for her sense of injustice to boil over and turn into action. Once it does, though – yikes! Don’t make her mad. While I enjoyed her character, she is my least favorite of the three.

The concept is a unique one: take the suffragist movement and chuck in some magic. If it was written by any other author, it might have floundered. However, Alix E. Harrow is a fantastic writer. She could write a novel about paper cuts, and I’d be excited to read it.

If you like books with angry characters, vengeance, and more than a touch of magic, this one is for you.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic' Review: Silvia Moreno-Garcia Reinvigorates A ...

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.   
 
Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.
 
Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness. 
 
And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind. (taken from Amazon)

I don’t usually give trigger warnings in my posts. However, I’m going to give one here because I really wish I’d been given one. This book contains more than one instance of sexual assault. If I had been aware of that going in, I would not have read this book. So. There’s that.

In many aspects, this is a typical gothic novel. It contains many of the things often found in creeptastic books. Isolated rundown mansion? Check. Help staff that has been there forever and is eerily silent? Check. Possible mental illness? Check. Tragic, violent past? Check. Hallucinations-or are they hauntings? Check.

However, Noemi is a fresh take on the heroine. She’s a little spoiled and quite used to getting her way. Being thwarted at every turn only serves to increase her determination to figure out what’s going on. I liked that it explained why she wouldn’t cut and run when it became clear that something wasn’t right.

The other cast of characters were original spins on the usual tropes. There’s Virgil, who personifies the word “vile”; Florence, a strict woman who really dislikes Noemi; Howard, the old and wizened patriarch; Frances, the pale tortured young man; and Constance, the cousin who might be having a nervous breakdown.

In case you haven’t realized it by now, I didn’t care for this book. I was disgusted by the sexual aspects in this book, I was not surprised by any of the “twists,” and the final reveal bordered on the ridiculous. That being said, the descriptions were well done. The author made sure to use all the sense when describing the setting, which made it feel much more real.

If you can handle harsher content, you might enjoy this book. As for me, I was underwhelmed.

 

The Age of Witches by Louisa Morgan- ARC Review

Amazon.com: The Age of Witches: A Novel (9780316419512): Morgan ...

In Gilded Age New York, a centuries-long clash between two magical families ignites when a young witch must choose between love and loyalty, power and ambition, in this magical novel by Louisa Morgan.
In 1692, Bridget Bishop was hanged as a witch. Two hundred years later, her legacy lives on in the scions of two very different lines: one dedicated to using their powers to heal and help women in need; the other, determined to grasp power for themselves by whatever means necessary.
This clash will play out in the fate of Annis, a young woman in Gilded Age New York who finds herself a pawn in the family struggle for supremacy. She’ll need to claim her own power to save herself-and resist succumbing to the darkness that threatens to overcome them all. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available on April seventh, 2020.

Reading this book, I found myself in a “it’s not you, it’s me” situation. It was well written, but I just really didn’t care for it. Possibly, it was because the book didn’t seem to match its blurb. When I read the description, I expected a lot more action than there is in the book. I guess I failed to take into account the time in which this book takes place.

Annis comes from a long line of witches, but she is unaware of it. Her stepmother, Frances, is also imbued with powers. She decides to use them selfishly, in an attempt to gain herself notoriety. Here’s the first thing in the book that I wasn’t a huge fan of: the whole “evil plot” consists of making Annis marry someone with station so that Frances can be a part of the upper class. That’s a reason that just isn’t all that interesting to me, personally.

I also didn’t really connect with the characters at all. Annis only cared about her horses and, when she thought about marrying rich, it was with an eye toward the horses she’d own and be able to breed. James, the other part of the duo, was a prude who didn’t think women capable of anything. It made it difficult for me to care about either of them. The slow-building possible-romance just didn’t work for me.

The world was well-realized, however, and the writing was top-notch. Louisa Morgan wrote with an eye to detail that made it incredibly easy to visualize the settings. She told the story using four different points of view, but the switch-off was smooth and easy to follow.

Despite the author’s obvious skill, this book just didn’t butter my biscuit.