Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Review: Striking Balance by Jeanne G'Fellers

Title: Striking Balance – The Peculiar Making of Beatrice Benjamin Sophia Scott Schnell Gow
Series: Appalachian Elementals (#3)
Genre: Appalachian Paranormal Fantasy
Author: Jeanne G'Fellers
Publisher: Mountain Gap Books
Release Date: 21st July 2020

You know when you've beta-read books one and two in a series, and read the novella that came after (or, in fact, between) them, and then the author contacts you and says, "Hey, d'you fancy beta-reading book three?" Yep, that! Because, honestly, when someone writes as brilliantly as Jeanne G'Fellers does, beta-reading is a free book, and I kind of feel like I cheated the author out of a sale. Well, the least I can do is tell you what makes this novel (and series) so awesome.

So the first thing is the series itself: Appalachian Elementals is, as the title indicates, a series set in the Appalachians…featuring elemental beings, although not just elementals. The mixing and mingling of different kinds of folk, both magical and non-magical, is a major part of the charm of this series, which for the most part in books one and two is contemporary fantasy fiction. I say 'for the most part' because the world Jeanne G'Fellers has created is as much about the characters' pasts as it is their present, and when we're dealing with elemental beings, they are as ancient as the Earth itself.

Striking Balance is book three in the series, and while it is stand-alone and doesn't require prior reading of books one and two, if you do happen to read them in order, like I did, you get the buzz of recognising characters you already know waaaay in the future, as Striking Balance is historical fiction (late-1700s), in some respects lending insight to the events that take place in Keeping House (book two - read my review). This is one of my absolute favourite literary devices, where I turn into Buddy from Elf, almost bouncing in my seat and yelling, "I know him! I know him [her/them]!" at the page - or screen. I'm the same with cameos in movies and TV series (you would not believe how excited I was when Spock turned up in Discovery).

Speaking of screens, this series is another one that needs the Netflix treatment - I could waste hours imagining the CGI complexity of it all. But I digress…

Striking Balance centres on one Benjamin Schnell, who sparks into existence on page one and only grows brighter and more real as he leads us through his day-to-day life, relatively ordinary at first but becoming stranger after he is injured (damn, this is hard without giving spoilers). What I love most about Ben is that through each and every experience, new or old, terrifying or delightful, he remains deeply analytical and pragmatic. I don't mean he's emotionally cold; far from it. There were moments his narration had me sniffling back tears, still others where I couldn't help but giggle, or indeed rage at the injustice, or shriek in frustration. Ben is wry and quick-witted, soft-hearted and compassionate, but he's also a fighter, ever determined to find solutions; to succeed. But within all of that, he also has to learn to trust both himself and those around him - his close friend (soul mate) Conall in particular.

As mentioned, the cast of characters includes some I'd previously met in books one and two, and once again I can only applaud the author's stealth capacity for weaving diversity into each and every story. If we're talking LGBTQIA+, the whole rainbow's in this series, and it's seamless, subtle, just there as part of the fabric of the universe. How it should be.

Finally, there's the world-building, which is, as ever, spectacular. I'm one of the small percentage of people who can't visualise, so I can't really tell you what it looks like, but there's magic and mountains and rivers and farms and trees, so…maybe like Middle Earth with more mountains and less colour saturation? What I can tell you is I was immersed from beginning to end, literally lost in the elements.

Striking Balance is book three in the Appalachian Elementals series by Jeanne G'Fellers and is available in paperback and ebook editions.

Purchase links:







Monday, December 30, 2019

Review: Minuet by A.M. Leibowitz

Title: Minuet
Series: Notes from Boston
Author: A.M. Leibowitz
Publisher: Supposed Crimes
Release Date: 1st September 2019

Full disclosure: I beta-read Minuet (along with books 2 and 3 - Nightsong and Drumbeat), which doesn't make any difference to what I will say - I'd love this series just as much had I read it in the usual way. But it has given me an insight beyond each novel, as I've kept in mind how the various arcs fit together and developed strong feelings towards certain characters. Those feelings don't always run in line with 'heroes' and 'villains', although...the one uber villain, well, let's say he gets his comeuppance quite satisfactorily in Minuet.

Central to this instalment are the characters Mack, Amelia and Jomari, and I must admit that I still don't feel I know Jomari as well as the other two, purely because I've known him for a shorter period of time. In some ways, he's more closed off than Mack, although there's an interesting on-page dynamic that hints at Jomari's greater openness in the company of some more than others.

Amelia...is just wonderful. True, in Minuet she has moments where she wobbles a bit (understandably) but in so doing reminds us that she is human after all, as she's usually so strong, wise and dependable. It was good to see that other aspect of her personality.

And then there's...Mack. Oh, Mack. I really didn't care much for him - for two whole novels! But the way he supported his friends in Drumbeat picked holes in my ambivalence, and by around the midpoint of Minuet I could honestly have read an entire novel focused on him.

Along the way, we drop in on the characters from the previous novels, which is one of my favourite things to read - much like cameos of characters from one book appearing in another, although in Notes from Boston they're all part of the same crowd, so they're always there in the background.

Best of all? The characters are queer - in all flavours - which is wonderful! Minuet, like the rest of the Notes from Boston series, showcases romance, love, friendship, family and everything else that goes into a substantial slice of life, through rainbow-tinted lenses. And music, of course.

Minuet possibly works as a stand-alone read, but I recommend reading the series in order to get the full benefit of watching the characters and their relationships evolve and deepen.

I've linked the books/series titles to the publisher's pages, but here are some more links for where you can buy Minuet:

Amazon • Barnes and Noble • Kobo • iBooks


Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Not My Christmas - novella out today #HBTC #bisexual #women #romance #ownvoices


Not My Christmas by Debbie McGowan
Published: 25th December, 2019
Length: 18,000 words (approx.)
99c from Smashwords • Amazon

Blurb:
Christmas at the Davenports has never been a relaxing affair, so when the opportunity for a little alone time with a beautiful, available woman comes Charlie Davenport’s way, she takes it, breaking several family traditions and risking the wrath of her siblings. But it’ll be worth it, right? And she can always make it up to them later…or next Christmas.

A stand-alone story from the world of Hiding Behind The Couch.

Keywords:
LGBTQ+, ownvoices, romance, family, bisexual women, Christmas, humour

Monday, December 09, 2019

Rainbow Award for The Great Village Bun Fight

Woot! My 2018 novella The Great Village Bun Fight won an award this weekend. :)

The Rainbow Awards are an annual/bi-annual event, run by Elisa Rolle, celebrating LGBTQ+ books across all genres.

Entrants make a donation to an LGBTQ+ charity of their choosing, and this year, the awards raised over $12,000.

A huge thank you to Elisa for all her hard work and dedication to the awards and the contributions they make, not just to writers and readers but to the LGBTQ+ community.




All’s fair in love and war. But not in baking.

A humorous story about baking and village life. Also includes a rockin' reverend, cakes and bunting.

Do what you do best.

So said Henry’s grandad a year ago to the day as he handed Henry a small, red-foil-wrapped box that gave a metallic rattle when he shook it. Inside: a large bunch of mismatched keys held together by a ring the size of a bangle.

The keys to the bakery.

Henry’s bakery.

No going back. Definitely not after Margaret changed the sign on her shop so it read:

THE Village Bakery & Grocery
Home of the Banton Bun

Not THE Banton Bun, mind you—Margaret doesn’t have the Joneses’ secret family recipe—but a reasonable approximation.

As for Henry doing what he does best… Henry Jones the Ninth is no baker, that’s for sure. He wouldn’t even know how to assemble a Banton Bun, let alone bake one. But he does know his way around computers, accounts, managing staff and stock inventory. And he rides a mean tricycle.

You might wonder how that could be a good thing. Read on, and all will be revealed.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Fifty at fifty! Meredith's Dagger


OK, so I missed it by a few minutes in BST as it's technically now the 21st August, but let's assume it's still the 20th for me as it still is for many of you.

Today I released Meredith's Dagger - my fiftieth novel - on my fiftieth birthday! Both of those facts are quite hard to believe. I made it to fifty! Woot! And fifty books? Well, I wrote most of them in the last ten years, not sure how...

I'm going to keep this short and give a little background to Meredith's Dagger, which I originally wrote in 2011 but then set it aside while I did further research into the relevant local history. Then I got caught up in all that research and it was a bit overwhelming, so I let it rest awhile to work on other books.

I've come back to it several times over the years since and made it through the first few chapters before I reached the point where I wanted to slap Julian - you'll reach that point too, but he's not so bad really once you get to know him. ;)

This year, I've essentially rewritten the entire novel - expanded the characters so they're deeper and more well-rounded. I've also fictionalised the setting, so whilst a lot of that historical research underpins the events, the entire work is fictional with a few 'inspired by reality' moments. Well, the bit about the cholera epidemic is true.

I hope you find Meredith's Dagger entertaining first and foremost, but there are some important historical truths within the story too, relating to the treatment of women in general and specifically within psychiatry.

On that note, I'd like to acknowledge and thank a few people, not least Vicki Coppock, my lecturer for the Politics of Mental Health, whose teaching provided the empirical evidence for what I had long believed was wrong with psychiatry and taught me the real 'art' of feminist critical thinking. Thank you also to Andrea, Nige, Amy, David, Michael and Jor for polishing this novel into the shiny, lovely thing it is, and for your encouragement and support. You are wonderful!

I'll post again later in the week and share jewellery sketches by Emma Pickering, which I'd hoped to include in the book. Alas I couldn't clean up the images, and the originals have been lost to the passage of time.

I was keeping this short, so I'll leave you with the purchase links:
BTP eBook: https://www.beatentrackpublishing.com/shop/proddetail.php?prod=md_format
BTP Paperback: https://www.beatentrackpublishing.com/shop/proddetail.php?prod=md
Amazon: http://mybook.to/meredithsdagger
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/945614?ref=b10track
B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/merediths-dagger-debbie-mcgowan/1132189626?ean=2940163259724
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/meredith-s-dagger
Apple: https://books.apple.com/gb/book/merediths-dagger/id1469904018

Thanks for reading!
Deb x


Monday, July 08, 2019

Keeping House - New Release from Jeanne G'Fellers

Title: Keeping House
Author: Jeanne G'Fellers
Publisher: Mountain Gap Books
Series: Appalachian Elementals (#2)
Genre: Appalachian Paranormal Fantasy, LGBTQ+
Purchase Links:

Blurb:
Centenary Rhodes is caught in a deal she didn’t make. Thanks to her eternal lover, Stowne’s, quick thinking, she’ll live forever, but there’s a hitch. Cent’s now fey, and three months out of the year she’ll live on the other side of Embreeville Mountain among the Hunter Fey, serving their king, Dane Gow.

As Cent begins wading through the anachronisms that come with being a Hunter, she learns that nothing is what it initially seems. Cent shares several past lives with Dane, who wants her back, and Stowne’s lied to Cent so many times that she’s having doubts about their marriage. To make matters worse, the past Hunter Kings are influencing Dane’s behavior, and the youngest Hunter, Brinn, might well be the most dangerous of them all.

It’s going to be a cold, dark spring, and Cent needs to unite both sides of Embreeville mountain before her eternal life, her relationship with Dane, and her marriage to Stowne come permanently undone.

Another rich Contemporary Appalachian tale about fantastic people and the magic they possess, including LGBTQIA+ characters Human and otherwise.

My Review:
What a brilliant second instalment in the Appalachian Elementals series.

Without looking at my review of Cleaning House, I don't know if I've said this before, but I really appreciate the glimpse into a culture that is at once distinct from my own and yet eerily familiar. My heritage is English with a hefty dose of Scots and Irish, and so much of the language, customs - right down to particular slang words - have carried over the centuries in both British English and Appalachian culture. The author's use of old Scots' dialect is both entertaining and used very effectively as a narrative device - a visible tracker for subtle changes in characters. At one point, I spotted the shift in language and found I was muttering oh god, oh god at my screen because the other characters were still in the dark. I do so love being in the know as a reader. :)

Aside from the wickedly biker-goth setting, there is, of course, Cent's life journey and the situation imposed on her at the end of the first book. While most readers could probably follow what's happening in Keeping House without reading Cleaning House, the connections and dynamics between the characters, human, elemental and otherwise, are all well established, so I wouldn't recommend jumping straight into book two. Why would you want to when this is such a grand story?

What I loved most of all about this book is how it took my stance on all of the different characters (i.e. I loved Stowne and Rayne, wasn't sure about Pyre and hated Dane with a passion) and kicked the feet out from under it. So, yes, Dane is much more than I credited her with, and Stowne and Rayne, well, it's complicated.

A great ensemble cast, atmospheric scenery and some quite terrifying moments all culminate in a great read (and a fair bit of thumb-twiddling while I await book three).

About Jeanne G’Fellers:
Born and raised in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, Science Fiction and Fantasy author Jeanne G’Fellers’ early memories include watching the original Star Trek series with their father and reading the books their librarian mother brought home. Jeanne’s influences include author Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Isaac Asimov, and Frank Herbert.

Jeanne lives in Northeast Tennessee with their spouse and five crazy felines. Their home is tucked against a small woodland where they regularly see deer, turkeys, raccoons, and experience the magic of the natural world.


Monday, July 01, 2019

Smashwords sale, new novel soon, plus stepping away from the writing conveyor belt

Every now and then, I remember I'm supposed to let my readers old and new know what I've been up to, what's on the horizon and all that jazz.

Well, this is going to be a short (but hopefully informative) post. :D (OK, not that short. I don't really do short.)

We're midway through 2019 - the first year in many (since 2013) when I haven't already written at least one novel, and I'm OK with that. I realised a couple of years back that I'd somehow ended up on the book factory line, which isn't a bad thing, as it comes from readers actively asking for more.

For instance, I wrote Checking Him Out in 2014, and enough people wanted Noah and Matty's story, so I published Taking Him On in 2015 (and Checking In because people wanted more of Sol and Adam too), and then there was Jesse and Leigh's story, The Making of Us, which I released in 2017. During those three years, I also co-wrote the Seeds of Tyrone series with Raine O'Tierney (three novels), six short stories, seven novellas and seven novels. (I have no idea now how I did it.)

My plan is still to release one final novel for the Checking Him Out series, plus a crossover novella. Also in the pipeline is the final novel in the Gray Fisher trilogy, the next instalment in Hiding Behind The Couch and a collaborative project with David Bridger.

It perhaps goes without saying that I really needed a break from the rapid write-edit-publish-repeat cycle, not so much due to burnout, although I've found it harder to write during the past couple of years. It's more about the way my brain works. I miss having a decent amount of time to rework stories before publication - a costly luxury in the current indie publishing climate. Readers have so many books to choose from, most writers fear losing vast swathes of readership if they leave it too long between books.

Don't stop asking for more, though!

For the time being, I've slowed down a bit, though I haven't been idle. I'm busy with my day jobs (publishing and university), and I've also been working on Meredith's Dagger: the novel I originally wrote in 2011 for NaNoWriMo, which means it was stuffed with redundancies. Note: was stuffed. I've essentially rewritten it, and I'm about to send it to my proofreaders, ready for release next month. I'll say more nearer/at release date time. However, you can preorder a copy from: https://www.beatentrackpublishing.com/meredithsdagger

I've also written a couple of shorter pieces this year, both of which are available for free (either on this blog or via the external links below).

Nina, Pretty Ballerina

Part of Play On... A FREE Valentine's Day collection of short stories, poetry and prose, inspired by the songs of ABBA.



Highlights (co-written with A.M. Leibowitz)

The one where Notes from Boston’s Amelia Roberts takes a much-needed vacation to England and runs into Shaunna Hennessy from Hiding Behind The Couch—a fortuitous meeting for both.



In conclusion, I haven't stopped writing, nor intentionally paused, and I could reach the end of this post and suddenly be struck by an irrepressible urge to stay up writing all night for the next month. But as it stands, the stories likely won't come as thick and fast in future as they did during the past seven years.

If you've only just discovered my writing, you can find the full list of all my stories on this page on my website: http://debbiemcgowan.co.uk/?n1=publications

And throughout July, my stories are heavily discounted (some are free) in the Smashwords sale. Visit: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/debbiemcgowan

Thanks for reading,
Deb x