Kindra Austin’s For You, Rowena uncovers a mystery about love and relationships, and how loss can come back to haunt you.
Given a choice of literary genres, mystery is never my first to pick up. Perhaps it is the constant and nagging question in the back of my mind: “How did the author create such a puzzle that I can’t immediately solve?” The details, perfectly interlocking, lead to an ending that is usually satisfying, but leaves me somehow disappointed with my own inability to catch the culprit before the final chapter, or worse, obsessing about tiny clues in an attempt to solve the crime. For You, Rowena was a different type of mystery for me: I didn’t wonder so much at the intricacies of how a crime was planned or carried out; Kindra Austin set the scene and created characters so fascinating and sympathetic that the only question in my mind was “How did it come to this, and how will it end?” This book goes beyond the machinations of an interesting mystery; it is a stirring exploration of human behavior.
Austin excels at character development through the course of the novella; the titular character, her lovers, and supporting players change very believably, very humanly. This is especially true of Rowena. I found her completely unlikeable from first mention; yet as I learned more about her, I grew to understand her attitude of seeming detachment and aloofness, to look beyond the words coming from her mouth and see the revelation of her true character through the actions she takes.
Mara, Lucas and Adrian, Rowena’s friends and lovers, are equally fascinating and surprising in their strange love for a woman whose idiosyncrasies and (at times) warring attitudes simultaneously repel and attract them. Caught in the gravity of Rowena’s sun, their orbits are elliptical, closer and farther at times, but always revolving around her. At times, I wished I could enter into the intrigue myself—to step for a moment into Mara’s slippers, or perhaps be a fly on the wall. Either way, I was equally pulled into Rowena’s circle.
To delve deeper into the novella for this review would require revealing the storyline and its marvelous twists and turns, so I will refrain from spoiling your read. Austin’s novella, much like her poetry, is full of the imagery of smoky rooms and cocktail kisses, dark evenings and secretive places. The story of crime was artfully entwined with emotional and romantic loss that touched the deeper spaces of my heart. Ultimately it left me with a buzz of satisfaction, and the surprise that my detective intuition was not far off.
Mariah Voutilainen, co-editor at Indie Blu(e), writes poetry and prose about all manner of things at www.reimaginingthemundane.wordpress.com.
I have been shook, and I have been rocked, and I have been swallowed by a book, and an author, and my own divisive and inclusive thoughts, after the fact.
With Founding Fathers, Nicholas Gagnier takes his readers to the darkest places where most of them have always been afraid to go on their own, and he has me leading the pack because he enthrals me and fills me with such a twisted dichotomy of ‘Oh my God, no’ and ‘Oh my God, yes’ and I am stuck, as I imagine all of his readers are, somewhere between ashamed and awed, begging for more and pleading for him to stop.
Founding Fathers hits hard, and it scrapes away any pleasantries and ‘how do you do’s’ within the first 100 pages. Nicholas Gagnier has a pulse on the times and rides the waves of our society, unapologetically and with truth so ugly it can’t help but be anything other than beautiful.
Nicholas Gagnier and Founding Fathers is a siren call of our times, a wicked truth and an ugly hope we all struggle with. Founding Fathers taps into the signs of our times and our ugliest motivation, and it is a glaringly beautiful representation of how and why we as a society have ended up where we are. It begs the question: is this who we are, is this who we will be, is this everything we have yet to become.
Nicholas Gagnier has weaved fire into Founding Fathers, and I dare anyone who reads it to step away and try not to check themselves and everything they believe.
Founding Fathers will be released by Blank Paper Press on October 9, 2018
I must admit, before I was introduced to Ashley Jane’s debut book of poetry and prose, Love, Lies and Lullabies (released on July 30, 2018), I had not yet had the privilege of indulging in her work; but after opening the cover, which is adorned with raw yet beautifully soft imagery, I am an instant fan.
Ashley opens this collection with the lines, “We painted with words, immortalized our souls with ink, sold our hearts to the masses,” a brilliant tagline sure to entice any admirer of words. We are then whisked into the whimsical realm of romance, where we experience both the beauty of the fall and the not-so-elegant reality of relationships in the book’s first section, Love.
In this section, Ashley brings us along the journey of a wounded heart that once settled for far less than deserved until coming to the realization that everything she ever wanted was right before her very eyes. Ashley describes the “quick descent” one experiences when falling in love and puts perfectly into words what we feel in a new relationship, when struggling to find balance between the urge to stay and the instinct to run- a battle of the mind and the heart that anyone who has ever been scorned by love can relate to. But in pieces like Fragmented Heart we experience the patchwork art of careful hands willing to gently put the pieces of a once shattered heart back together.
I practically fell in love myself when I read the poem Lesson in Love, which reads:
“You hold me under velvet skies,
tracing each of my scars
and reminding me
that I am stronger because of them,
leaving me enough of those shadows
to rebuild myself
with bits of love.”
And although in Love is Messy, Ashley says “we try to define it, but it is not meant to be defined,” I believe she describes Love rather perfectly in this aptly titled section.
In the second section, Lies, we relive the pain of betrayal that adheres to our bones like mortar to the bricks we then stack high around our broken hearts. As Ashley shares with us the misadventures of seeking happily-ever-after in fraudulent fantasies portrayed by “actors who use hearts for a stage,” we are reminded to take caution in the quest for love. She perfectly explains the way we lose ourselves when we become wrapped up in the pretty little lies we allow ourselves to believe against our inner knowing. I love the way Ashley reclaims her power by learning to “filter through the fallacies” in Self-Taught and then seals the deal by scrawling the lying muse’s name into her “little black book” and tossed away the key. My inner goddess cheered with joy as I celebrated that victory!
Lullabies, the last section of this incredible compilation, serves as a beautiful reminder that our inner light is always ready to illuminate the darkness when we are. Its dreamy vibe is filled with magic and mystery, the moon and stars, and an oceanic sky of endless possibilities to soothe the soul.
Ashley Jane’s Love, Lies and Lullabies is a must have for every poetry collection.
Love, Lies and Lullabies is available at Amazon.
For you Rowena – Kindra M. Austin
Review by Candice Louisa Daquin
I’ll begin by saying, it’s not easy to write a review of a book that you don’t want anyone to know the twists and turns of, because then what do you write about? With this novel I feel almost possessive, usually when you read a novel you really want others to read, you share what you most liked about it, but with a suspenseful and taut thriller that’s incredibly hard to achieve without giving key ingredients away. The reason this would be so devastating is that this novel builds brick by brick and so to read it out of sequence or know anything of what is to come, would spoil the crescendo.
Instead let’s talk about what I can make mention of without any spoilers. If you haven’t read a novel or poem by Kindra Austin then you may not know she’s a woman who absolutely doesn’t hold her punches. Think back 100 years, women couldn’t and wouldn’t do that, but even now, sometimes there is an apologetic politeness or restraint in how women describe the world. When you read someone who is willing to just BE on the page, then you know you have found the truth.
What is truth in fiction? Truth is reading the novel breathlessly and then when you put it down finished, you have emptiness, a feeling of wanting to go back, find the characters again, and inhabit them once more. Truth is relating so deeply to the carved souls of those people written on a page, that they become hyperreal to you. Just like Cathy and Heathcliff were to their generation of readers, we’ve moved on and we can use profanity and be honest about our frustrations as women; we can talk about sex and anger and rage and emotion and do so at a deeper level than we could when we were censored.
Women writers were really censored? You bet they were. And those who did speak truths did so through oblique metaphor rather than carnage on a page. Male writers however had many years of spilling it before women could join the fray and as such, they established themselves as the first of their generation to really ‘tell it like it is’ and women were usually not even part of the conversation. I’m not men-bashing by stating this, but women labored under a longer societal pressure to conform and behave and when they were freed, well fiction like this was born.
Are we talking Capote wearing a dress? By no means. A woman’s truth may be as visceral but it’s entirely different. The emotional landscape is vivid in an intensely feminine way, positively reflective, it goes deeper. The smut and sordidness of life may be equally explained but where a woman can be often two dimensional in male authors work, a woman can explode and show all her layers when a woman writes her.
Lately I’ve been fortunate enough to read some excellent male authors who did sterling jobs of creating female characters that I as a woman could relate to, but this is the first novel I’ve read in some time where I literally crawled beneath the skin of the two female lead characters. If I look up now, I may see them sitting at the table with me, I will smell them as I leave the room, and hear them laughing. They are so uncannily present I believe, it would be challenging for a man to write them with that much alacrity. Just as I could not write a man as well as some of the male writers I know. Does that limit the female and male author to their respective genders? Absolutely not. It simply gives a woman an opportunity to present female characters so fleshed out and present that its astonishing, in a world where male authors are still the dominant force (especially in the thriller genre).
Speaking of genres, I expected this novel to be a thriller of sorts, a psychological mystery. But it really defies any labeling in part because it is wickedly original and flies in the face of being nailed down as one thing or another. I read some female written gothic fiction once that almost reminded me a little, but still didn’t have its edge. At once disturbing, and familiar, you are not sure whether you want to run or continue to read, but you end up reading because of course you do, that’s inevitable. You’re a thing possessed.
I start a lot of novels and put them down, by the first fifty pages I am bored and don’t care what happens to the characters. So often that heady MFA format and predictable collection of characters (the genius who is dysfunctional, the bad-ass girl who happens to be gorgeous) are too routine. When reviewing a book you obviously can’t put it down even if it bores you so it’s always a fear reading a book that it may end up to be insufferable. This wouldn’t be the case here; if I had every novel ever published to read, I’d still want to read For you Rowena. Maybe the simplest way of reviewing this book is to tell you why.
For you Rowena is among other things, a love story, the kind you won’t be expecting and haven’t yet experienced. It has elements that all of us who have ever been caught emotionally in more than one allegiance will understand. In that, it is a very classic tale like Anna Karenina because we, all of us are suckers for love stories with tragic and painful experiences that we can relate to our own love histories, and those that go beyond anything we have experienced we live vicariously with, because ultimately, would anyone be as interested in reading a love story that has no tribulation and only happiness? Alas we are creatures of disturbance and as such, we demand emotional upheaval and not just calm waters. I’m not sure why that is, but an author worth her salt will need to ‘bring it’ and Austin brings it plenty. Hell, she sets it on fire and then invites you to dine on the embers.
Aside that beckoning lure, For you Rowena is also a masterful psychological expose of what makes us humans tick, emotionally. Something few of us really understand without referencing other experiences and looking back in hindsight. Austin gets the emotional jungle we live in, what we crave and we destroy and how we hurt those we love and we do things that make no sense but at the time they are what sustain us. Austin presents us with people we can peer into and discover things about ourselves, sometimes disquietingly. Her characters are shockingly realistic, at the same time there is a fantasy overlaying that and a mystical beauty to Austin’s descriptions of the world about her, which creates a deft juxtaposition between narration, description and dialogue.
Immediately after finishing, my first thought was how visual For you Rowena was. I could literally SEE the scenes and the characters as if they existed on film. It takes a lot to paint so vividly the entirety of a story, not just a realistic dialogue but the full fleshing of person’s you’ve created and then manipulate those creations into coaxing the reader into a sympathetic lasting relationship. Often times you can walk away from a character, you can say ‘I really don’t care what happens’ but that’s impossible here. It is equally impossible NOT to relate to their respective trajectories and the arc the story takes, you are sucked in and kept there, holding your breath until the end.
It would do no good to quote from For you Rowena because everything is within a context and doesn’t survive on its own. That is the intensity of the write, and to say this is simply about love or relationships or murder or desperation or frustration would in no way reveal the heart of this novel. As with any well written novel that stands the test of time, it is the relationship formed with the central characters, our sympathies, anger, and emotional investment that define our impression of the novel as a whole. Does it stand out in a literary sense? I believe it does, because Austin knows the nuance of novel writing requires that fine balance of character versus scene versus dialogue and she gracefully navigates the reader through a very intense hate/love storyline without once losing us.
On a personal note, any of us who have loved passionately and been unsure of our decisions can really sink our teeth into this tale, as Austin presents the quixotic ficklety of human nature, its treacheries, its alliances, and ultimately, its surfaces and depths. I wrote four pages of notes as I read, but I used nothing of them in my review, because they were more my impressions formed from the gut-punch of this book than something I could usefully employ. The ruin and recovery of people is written in the same intoxicating quality as I would expect to find in any memorable novel, adding only a modern flourish. Indeed there is even symbolism, redolent in the significance of broken things, and small observations that speak of loss.
Will it be a novel for everyone? I’m sure some will find the ugly nature of passion disquieting, but more likely there is something missing in all of us that we can discover in For you Rowena. If you have ever had a terrible ache, or shame, and not known how to articulate it, or understood yourself, what led up to its creation, this novel will explain those attachments, as it will bring you right to the edge of understanding how someone can kill. The horror of that and its shocking banality is vividly captured by a writer who can wield a psychological intuitiveness within her characters that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
Perhaps when you have read this you will see why I cannot speak at length about those characters and that story, just as we cannot casually open Pandora’s box. A novel that bewitches us will invariably defy breaking into its composite pieces, it works as if by magic, though the skill required to make those pieces harmonize and fit together is invisibly sewn into every page.
Plainly put, I loved reading this novel. It created in me such an admiration for its authoress and a real fired up passion to find more books that gave me that bequeathed thrill. I found nothing predictable about it, and everything original. For you Rowena literally grabbed me by the throat and held me until the reckoning, and what a reckoning it was.
Christine E. Ray’s Composition of a Woman invites readers to see what a woman is truly made of
“Betrayal is an inside job” writes poet Christine E. Ray in her debut Composition of a Woman, which will be released July 31st by Sudden Denouement Press. Ray, who unabashedly displays her “inner badass” on her blog Brave & Reckless, is no new-comer to the indie writing scene. Careful contemplation went into the organization and creation of this volume, and as such, it speaks to Ray’s decades of experience in writing, years spent editing in the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective, and curating in the writer collectives she helped to found, Go Dog Go Café and Indie Blu(e). In poems strung together like delicate bones, Ray has crafted a personal story that sometimes hinges on the idea of betrayal, but also on the inner strength of a woman finding love even as she has found loss, finding her voice in spite of being told she is less than. The trajectory follows an atlas of human form, from nerve to blood, in which she describes a relationship to her body, to her thoughts, to her womanhood, to her writer’s existence. I was taken in (admittedly in part by my own fondness for the poetics of muscle and bone) from the first poem, by words and phrasing that hang on themselves gracefully in their simplicity while conveying a multitude of emotions.
The imperative of a poet is often to unveil some hidden kernel of human nature or experience and attempt to imbue it with feelings that are difficult to translate into words. To be an interpreter whose words reassure the readers that every experience is exquisitely unique and yet relatable. In this, Ray succeeds, especially in the sections “Nerve” and “Blood”.
“Nerve” shows us the confusion, frustration and uncertainty of strange physical symptoms and the process of medical diagnosis. Ray explores such subject matter with an underlying layer of humor, good-natured exasperation at the disloyalty of hips that creak and mouths that swear to reveal hidden pain. In the poem “My Right Foot,” she informs us that “my right foot went on strike/declaring that unsafe working conditions…/made continuing unacceptable”. The body eventually cooperates, even if petulantly, but most certainly amusingly: “my right foot…sulked the rest of the way home/damn ungrateful foot.”
And in “Blood,” Ray openly and strongly addresses society’s expectations of girls and women. Although her poems draw from common characterizations of women like sugar and spice, the Virgin, the Mother, the Crone, and Lilith, they are still fresh through her voice. In “Stepping off the Spiral Path” Ray declares “I reject the title crone…I refuse the mantle/of invisibility…I choose instead my naked soul”. The extraction of this soul through words in “Lost Voice” requires the revelation of a “…truth so deeply hidden/that you must dive inside/hand to elbow buried into slippery entrails/to reach it”.
As I read Composition of a Woman I marveled at Ray’s ability to strike at the most tender of places in such an unassuming way. True, there are many moments in which her voice roars, but as she brought the book to a close, I was left with a quiet simmering warmth. It is this warmth that moved me throughout; traversing “Nerve” and “Brain” and “Breast” and “Rib” to finally settle in “Blood”. Just as poetry is more than just words on a page, more than the sum of its well-placed allusions or expertly crafted metaphors, so too is a woman more than just the body she lives in. In this book, Ray demonstrates just how much more.
Composition of a Woman is available at Amazon.com, Amazon.ca (Canada), Amazon Australia, Amazon Europe ( Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.it, and Amazon.es,) as well as other major retailers.
Mariah Voutilainen, co-editor at Indie Blu(e), writes poetry and prose about all manner of things at http://www.reimaginingthemundane.wordpress.com.
Austin stuns with her debut novel, Magpie in August. A lovingly written narrative about living, dying and the purgatory in between.
I’ve been an admirer and reader of Austin’s poetry since late 2016, a little while after she started poemsandparagraphs. Austin always writes honestly with the razor-sharp ability to steal the breath from my lungs and make me punch the air with my fist. However, I did not know what to expect with Magpie in August, except it grew out of her relationship with her late mother (as revealed in her interview with Sudden Denouement founder, Jasper Kerkau).
Within the first few pages, Magpie, our protagonist, was sketched into my mind in vivid magenta, violet, and deep charcoal. Magpie’s love for Peter was palpable from the first time he called her ‘Beautiful’ as if it was her ‘God given name’. Her mother, Lynette, is an angel and demon wrapped up in one and Renny, Magpie’s reader and listener, a friend and foe. Austin leads us to believe we know everything there is to know about these people. Magpie can be cruel. Lynette is fickle and flippant. Peter is a watchful guardian and Renny is silent.
But, they are people, not characters and so our omniscient facade soon falls away. In every chapter, Austin gifts us a new angle, new mirror and new prism to refract everything we knew through. In fact, it is only Peter, quite fittingly, who remains the same.
Austin gave me a safe space to reflect on my own relationships, to draw parallels and thank my blessings. Her exploration of grief and loss is beautiful. A stunning, heart-wrenching tribute to the human condition and its difficulty to love unconditionally, when love, at the end of it all, is what we do best. Every person receives redemption of some form – Magpie, Lynette, Wren, Dalton (Magpie’s father) and even Jessica Wenzel.
Austin’s unwavering guidance into the darkness of rock bottom, Lake Huron and even the supernatural was superb. Authors like Cecelia Ahern (If You Could See Me Now), F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby) and Douglas Kennedy (The Woman in the Fifth) came to mind as Austin matched their ability to write people not caricatures and take them to places we didn’t expect; never once causing the reader to doubt their ability in ensuring it all makes sense in the end.
Magpie in August ends just as it should. The Magpie who wakes up from a dreamy slumber in chapter 1 is the Magpie embracing all the earth and sky have to offer in the final chapter. Austin brings us full circle; allowing us to reap the rewards of a woman saving herself.
Magpie leaves us believing she deserves to breathe, love and wait for her ‘beloved stars to awaken silvery blue in an inky sky.’
Magpie in August is available at Amazon.com
Kristiana Reed daydreams, people watches in coffee shops, teaches English and writes. She is a curator on Blood into Ink, a collective member of The Whisper and the Roar and blogs at My Screaming Twenties. She is 24 and is enjoying the journey which is finding her voice.