Posted in Author Q&A

Q&A with Sarah J. Harris

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From Simon and Schuster Author Profile:

Sarah J. Harris is an author and freelance education journalist who regularly writes for national British newspapers. She is the author of the young adult series Jessica Cole: Model Spy, written under her pen name, Sarah Sky. She lives in London with her husband and two young children. The Color of Bee Larkham’s Murder is her first adult novel.

After I reviewed her latest novel, The Color of Bee Larkham’s Murder she was so kind enough to answer some of my questions about her writings.

What got you so interested in synesthesia and face blindness?

Ms. Harris: I’ve been interested in synaesthesia for many years, after first coming across the condition during my work as an education journalist. I’d written a feature about childhood synaesthesia following new research at Edinburgh University, which highlighted a lack of awareness about the condition in UK primary schools. I found the subject fascinating and it made me wonder what life must be like for a child when people struggle to understand their day to day experiences – or simply don’t want to know. Over the years, I’ve kept cuttings from newspapers and magazines about synaesthesia and also avidly read up on another condition that fascinated me – developmental prosopagnosia or face blindness.

I knew that at some point I wanted to write a novel involving both conditions and ideas bubbled away in the background as life, in general, took over – I was raising my two young sons with my husband, working as a freelance education journalist and I went on to write three Young Adult books about a girl spy. When I finished my last YA book, I was no longer under contract with a publisher and I felt a sense of freedom – I could write whatever I wanted and I returned to my initial interests.

I started to research synaesthesia and face blindness more intensively and both conditions played on my mind a lot. The central idea for the book eventually came to me in a dream: I saw a terrified young boy running across a suburban street at night, terror etched on his face. When I woke up, I realized that a particular color could have traumatized the boy. Perhaps he had face blindness and identified people by the color of their voices. What if the voice color of someone he knew well had transformed toa horrific shade as they screamed? What if he had seen the color of murder? The book grew from there and I wrote the first draft in about nine months, continuing to carry out research as I worked.

Is Autism Awareness something important to you?

Ms. Harris: Yes, it is very important to me. Jasper’s father finds it difficult to accept his son’s differences but by the end of the book, he accepts him for who he is and stops trying to change him. They finally reconcile and have a shot of happiness in the future. Hopefully, the message from my book that resonates with readers is that we all perceive the world differently and that diversity is a wonderful thing. It’s OK to be different and to accept others for who they are.

I wanted to make my portrayal of Jasper as accurate as possible and had help from the National Autistic Society. The response from the autistic community following the publication of my book has been fantastic.

In what way do you relate to Jasper?

Ms. Harris: I was bullied at primary school and used to run home to get away from the boy who used to wait for me at the gates, just as Jasper does.

What was the hardest scene to write?

Ms. Harris: Probably the painting scenes – I painted each picture with a local artist to enable me to describe them accurately, which took time. I had to know the exact colors Jasper created when he mixed voice colors together, for example, his dad’s and Bee’s voice colors merge to make “dirty sap circles”.

Since it’s #IndieApril, What is your favorite independently published novel?

Ms. Harris: Still Alice by Lisa Genova. My father-in-law had an early onset of Alzheimer’s in his fifties and eventually died from the disease, so I’ve always felt a personal connection with this book.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions!

Read My Review of “The Color Of Bee Larkham’s Murder” HERE

Posted in Audiobooks, Book Reviews, Novels

REVIEW: The Color of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris

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*No Major Spoilers*

In the tradition of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a captivating mystery about a boy with synesthesia — a condition that causes him to see colors when he hears sounds — who tries to uncover what happened to his beautiful neighbor, and if he was ultimately responsible.

Thirteen-year-old Jasper Wishart lives in a world of dazzling color that no one else can see, least of all his dad. Words, numbers, days of the week, people’s voices—everything has its own unique shade. But recently Jasper has been haunted by a color he doesn’t like or understand: the color of murder.

Convinced he’s done something terrible to his new neighbor, Bee Larkham, Jasper revisits the events of the last few months to paint the story of their relationship from the very beginning. As he struggles to untangle the knot of untrustworthy memories and colors that will lead him to the truth, it seems that there’s someone else out there determined to stop him — at any cost.

I didn’t bother to ask what people would think. I’d given up trying to guess the answer to that particular puzzle long ago – The Color of Bee Larkham’s Murder

This novel is beautifully written, vivid colors, and real raw emotions portrayed from Jasper throughout the entire story. I felt in awe of Jasper’s gift to see the colors others cannot. The Color of Bee Larkham’s Murder helped me experience what people with synesthesia see every day.

I thought the mystery was intriguing. This novel doesn’t necessarily have a “bad guy” even the antagonist of the story is relatable and you end up feeling sorry for what they did. Jasper was just trying to do what was right, and to tell the truth about what happened to Bee.

I love how the neighborhood parakeets played a major role in the story. They grew and changed just like Jasper did throughout the story. They weren’t just a bad plot device, they actually portrayed Jasper’s growth as he solves the case.

I wanted so badly to see Jasper’s paintings for myself, to see why Bee was fascinated with the ones Jasper had painted while she had her music lessons. Was it just as abstract as Jasper claims it to be? I’m not sure, but I wish they were real.

The Color of Bee Larkham’s Murder was a heartwarming and colorful read. I wish this novel was more mainstream, but it was a wonderful find all the same. This novel will have you laughing out loud and reaching for the tissues by the end. This book will stay with me for a while after I finished the last chapter.

I would highly recommend this novel for lovers of unique mysteries, stories about children with learning disabilities, and of course, colors and parakeets. I think if you enjoy reading about any of those kinds of things, you’ll love this novel as much as I do.

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Posted in Audiobooks, Book Reviews, Novels

REVIEW: The Humans by Matt Haig

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*No Major Spoilers*

Our hero, Professor Andrew Martin, is dead before the book even begins. As it turns out, though, he wasn’t a very nice man–as the alien imposter who now occupies his body discovers. Sent to Earth to destroy evidence that Andrew had solved a major mathematical problem, the alien soon finds himself learning more about the professor, his family, and “the humans” than he ever expected. When he begins to fall for his own wife and son–who has no idea he’s not the real Andrew–the alien must choose between completing his mission and returning home or finding a new home right here on Earth.

I discovered this novel on a booklist that I receive in my email every other day. I only read the lists if the theme seems interesting to me, and that’s how I discovered this novel.

When this novel started, the commentary by the alien disguised as Andrew Martin was pointing out how alien humans looked to him. It kind of reminded me of Roger from American Dad. Roger has to dress up in various outfits to try and disguise himself so he can leave the house.

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Roger from American Dad 

I found this novel to be fascinating the way of character development from the alien’s point of view. Even though throughout the novel he remains fascinated with how us humans act, behave and believe, his overall opinion changes by the end of the novel.

Even though this isn’t a fully philosophical story, there is an over-arching plot. However, the challenges the alien faces on top of trying to stay under the radar in order to complete his mission makes for beautiful character development.

My favorite part of the story is when the alien gets sent into the mental hospital at one point, and the observations and people he meets there is fascinating for someone who has been in a mental hospital.

Humans, as a rule, don’t like mad people unless they are good at painting, and only then once they are dead. But the definition of mad, on Earth, seems to be very unclear and inconsistent. What is perfectly sane in one era turns out to be insane in another. The earliest humans walked around naked with no problem. Certain humans, in humid rainforests mainly, still do so. So, we must conclude that madness is sometimes a question of time, and sometimes of postcode.

Basically, the key rule is, if you want to appear sane on Earth you have to be in the right place, wearing the right clothes, saying the right things, and only stepping on the right kind of grass. – The Humans

I’ve got to say I really enjoyed this story on a variety of levels, everything from the character development to the philosophical approach the story had on the narrative. This story held my interest from beginning to end, the first letter to the final punctuation. This story is definitely recommended for those who enjoy sci-fi, aliens, a good overall story along with some thought-provoking undertones.

Posted in Author Q&A

Q&A with Ed Duncan

*No Spoilers for The Last Straw*

1. Your novel discusses how some kids leave street life behind as Mr. Elliot did, and how some kids never escape it. Was this something you witnessed yourself growing up?

Mr. Duncan: Yes, I did witness this.  I grew up in Gary, Indiana in the 1950s and 1960s.  At that time it was a booming steel town and was home to one of the largest steel mills in the country.  I lived in a lower middle-class neighborhood.  However, despite an abundance of jobs in the steel mills, there were nevertheless stubborn pockets of poverty within my neighborhood and on its edges.  Most of the boys who got into to trouble with the law and who, in those days were called “juvenile delinquents,” lived in the poverty-stricken areas of the city, and some of them were my friends, schoolmates, and neighbors.  Too young and stupid to know better, I occasionally joined them in some of their less serious infractions.  Fortunately, as we grew older, our paths diverged.  While I (and others) concentrated on school, some boys I considered to be friends graduated to more serious crimes.  A handful ended up in prison for varying lengths of time, up to and including life, and a few even died in street violence.  Maturity and parental guidance were part of the reason I escaped their fate, but another part was luck.

2. Do you feel like you connect more with Mr. Elliott or more with Rico?

Mr. Duncan: Paul Elliott was always meant to be the hero of the novel because he is a highly idealized version of me!  Like me, he comes from a working-class family, he did well in school, and he became the first black partner in a large majority law firm.  However, the more I developed Rico’s character, the more he fought to become the central focus of the narrative.  The more I tried to rein him in, the more he resisted.  Although I didn’t surrender, I like to think we fought to a draw.  By that, I mean that Paul is at least arguably on par with Rico as the driving force in the novel.  So the answer to your question is that, while I understand that readers will feel that Rico is the more riveting character (as do I), I actually connect more with Paul.

3. Are you part of a writing community?  If so, how do they help you to become a better writer?

Mr. Duncan: No, I’m not a part of a writing community. However, I regularly attend writing conferences.

4. What is your favorite under-appreciated novel?

Mr. Duncan: I would have to say that How Green Was My Valley is my favorite in that category.  I believe I’m correct that it’s underappreciated today.  Although it was adapted into an academy award winning movie in the late 1930s or early 1940s, I don’t hear much about it today.  It is exquisitely written and the coming of age story is achingly beautiful.

5. Do you want The Last Straw to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a series?  I honestly felt like The Last Straw could be its own standalone novel, or it could be part of a series.

Mr. Duncan: I’m happy that most people think the novel works well as a standalone.  However, it is the second in a trilogy.  The first is Pigeon-Blood Red, which was originally published in 2015 and was later published by my current publisher Creativia in 2017.  I’m currently working (too slowly!) on the third in the trilogy, Rico Stays.  Incidentally, I’ve also written screenplays for all three novels (I completed the one for Rico Stays before writing the novel), and I hope one day to be lucky enough to have them produced.  It’s a long shot but I have my fingers crossed!

Well, Thanks Mr. Duncan for taking the time to answer my questions as well as introducing me to your novel!

Read My Review of “The Last Straw” Here!

Buy “The Last Straw” by Ed Duncan Here!

Posted in Audiobooks, Book Reviews, Novels

REVIEW: A Sticky Inheritance (Maple Syrup Mysteries #1) by Emily James

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*No Major Spoilers*

Nicole Fitzhenry-Dawes feels like she’s the only failure amid a family of high achievers. Her last serious boyfriend turned out to be married and her career as a criminal defense attorney is in tatters. When her uncle passes away and leaves her his maple syrup farm in Northern Michigan, she thinks it might be time for a career change—hopefully one that allows her to stay as far away from murderers and liars as possible.

For half a day at least.

Her uncle’s suicide quickly begins to look like it wasn’t a suicide after all, but the chief of police is reluctant to investigate and soil the reputation of his serene little tourist town. Murder’s bad for business. Nicole has no choice but to search for the killer on her own, with a little help from the handsome county medical examiner—who’s exactly her type and all wrong for her.

And as she closes in, she not only risks becoming the murderer’s next victim but also starts to wonder if the truth is even worse than the lie…

This novel caught my eye because of the fall color theme, and the Maple leaf behind the title. I thought the idea of an ex-lawyer taking over her uncle’s maple farm sounded unique and I had to read it.

A Sticky Inheritance actually reminded me of a video game I love called Stardew Valley. It’s a game where your character takes over his/her’s grandpa’s farm, and you get to meet a unique cast of characters as well as uncover some hijinks going on in the small town.

However, that’s where the similarities between Stardew Valley and A Sticky Inheritance end. Other than the fact you’re taking over a family farm, and the interesting town folk this book has the mystery of figuring out who actually killed your uncle.

I enjoyed this novel. I liked the charm that this small town has as well as the possibilities this fictional small Michigan town has. I hope to be continuing this series in the future.

One part of the story I liked was how this small town has a brewery that contributed to the tourism factor that the town needs to survive. One of the ingredients that’s in the beer plays a major part in the mystery.

Overall, I was slightly surprised at how much I enjoyed this novel. A Sticky Inheritance is a fun entertaining read for those who are looking for a good cozy mystery. I would also recommend this novel for lovers of small towns and quirky characters.