Book Review: Kindra M. Austin’s For You, Rowena, by Mariah Voutilainen — October 1, 2018

Book Review: Kindra M. Austin’s For You, Rowena, by Mariah Voutilainen

Kindra Austin’s For You, Rowena uncovers a mystery about love and relationships, and how loss can come back to haunt you.

By Mariah Voutilainen

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.

For You, Rowena, is available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.


Mariah Voutilainen, co-editor at Indie Blu(e), writes poetry and prose about all manner of things at www.reimaginingthemundane.wordpress.com.

Candice Daquin reviews Kindra M. Austin’s For You, Rowena — September 9, 2018

Candice Daquin reviews Kindra M. Austin’s For You, Rowena

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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.

 

For You, Rowena (release date 31 August) — August 28, 2018

For You, Rowena (release date 31 August)

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What lines would you cross for the one you love?

Rowena is a Helen of Today, dangerously coveted; she’s a paradoxical woman searching for self-certitude through pleasures of the flesh. Only one amongst her myriad of lovers can save Rowena from herself.

This is a story of human connection and its devastating power.


In three days, I release my third book, a novella titled, For You, Rowena. I’m honored to announce that Allane Sinclair has yet again created a cover that encompasses a universe I’ve imagined and put to paper. I couldn’t ask for a better collaborator than Allane. As always, I hope my words serve justice to the emotions that scream from her artwork. Allane Sinclair is the real deal, folks. She pours every bit of her soul into her work, and it shows.

For You, Rowena, at its core, is about self-preservation, true love, and the roads a person might travel to claim that love as their own, despite the obstacles; it’s about abusive relationships, self-exploration, redemption, and revenge.

For You, Rowena is not written in the narrative style of Magpie in August. Though two different animals, I hope that those who’ve read Magpie will recognize both the strengths and vulnerabilities I’ve instilled into the main women characters of Rowena.

For You, Rowena is scheduled for release on 31 August, 2018 in paperback and Kindle format via Amazon.

From Nicholas Gagnier: Leonard the Liar Excerpt #2 — July 23, 2018

From Nicholas Gagnier: Leonard the Liar Excerpt #2

The bright lights give off an obnoxious combination of red, yellow and white glow. A visual overdose is spread across every corner of the travelling carnival like a neon bed-skirt. Kids infest every intersection. Games booths are commanded by charismatic university students over loudspeakers.

Carnies are the sheriffs of this lawless little land, when they’re not smoking pot or copulating with each other, shuffling folks onto rides and pressing a green button. Ferris Wheels and Gravitrons spin to life and slow with circadian rhythm, primed for the moments leading up to pushing the Big Red One.

Shuffle people out, shuffle people in.

It’s all routine.

Parents, single or otherwise, bring their offspring here in what they perceive to be a family night. It’s not even close. I can hardly blame them. It’s a night to set their monsters on a civilization of bells and whistles.

Teenagers travel in groups, beating the younger, less agile kids at games, contributing to anarchy any way they can. Maddening carnival music finds its way to whatever wondrous nook I find myself in, reaching peak volume somewhere along the House of Mirrors.

Skylar walks alongside me, buried in a sweater and thick glasses, having opted for sneakers over style. Her hair is tied back in a ponytail which sways with her swagger from side to side. Unnaturally focused on her environment, sentimental even, she constantly smiles at things she sees- a landed robin picking up food crumbs or a baby who lays eyes on her over a mother’s shoulder.

“I’m glad you called me,” she says. “I didn’t expect you to, but hoped.”

In return for three fucking days of torturing myself, I decided to act.

We arrive at the merry-go-round. Steel fences double as leaning posts for adults loitering around them, savoring a moment of peace before returning to ritualistic mollycoddling. Our fingers wrap around the horizontal bar, looking off into spinning abyss of colorful thought.

“Can I ask you a question?” Skylar asks.

“Depends on the question.”

“What changed?”

“What do you mean, what changed?”

She takes a deep breath, lips pursed.

“You never struck me as the guy who’d propose.”

I shrug.

“A lot changes in ten years.”

“Says the man who doesn’t believe in change.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Skye. Somewhere along the line, it stopped being an issue. I had to change if I wanted to live to see thirty years old. I had to change because I was sick of the lying and the binges and the compulsions.”

I hesitate.

“One night, I got hammered. Really hammered. I was with this girl Trisha at the time. We did a bunch of coke at her apartment and polished off a bottle of Jack. I crashed Trisha’s car. Hit one vehicle, which hit another. I ended up taking out a fire hydrant. That was rock bottom right there. Face-deep in the airbag and a cut above my eye.

“I pushed open the door, fell to the sidewalk and puked up all over it. Passed out. I woke up in the hospital. My brother was there. My uncle was there. Three doctors standing over me and a pair of cops.

“Crown wanted to put me away for six months but the judge didn’t throw the book at me because I had a clean record. I spent two days in lockup and got sent back to rehab. When I got out, I dumped Trisha. Just stopped calling her. She came to my house once, lost it on me and walked away.”

Skylar takes a moment to process. Her brow rises and falls for the duration.

“And then you met Claire?”

I fix my sights on the carousel. Christmas lights in constant motion. Momentary assaults of clarity coincide with mental highlights.

“I met Claire at- this is going to sound ridiculous. But, um, she mistook me for the superintendent, which was known to be a notoriously vacant position.”

Skylar says nothing.

“She had just moved in down the hall, and her pipe busted. My roommate at this time, real dick named Greg, who played guitar at three at the morning and was fucking obsessed with Sambuca, offered to help her on condition of a ‘happy ending’.”

“Oh, God,” she says. “Some men.”

“Anyway, there was no superintendent at the time, so I broke into the building’s storage and ‘borrowed’ some tools. Fixed the pipe.”

“You always were a rebel.”

“The first time I saw Claire smile, the first time I heard her voice and it peaked in pitch as it does when she’s nervous; the simple, knee-high white dress she was wearing. Golden locks. Beautiful girl. I was at a loss. Felt like an idiot.”

Skylar is silent.

“I feel like I’m talking to a wall here,” I tell her.

“What do you want me to say?”

“Congratulations, Len, you’re no longer the biggest fucking tool I know?”

She snickers.

“Now you’re just fishing for compliments. You haven’t lost that about you.”

“Here I thought I was a changed man.”

She bumps her shoulder to mine.

“Congrats, Len.”

“Thanks. Want to start walking?”

We migrate away from the carousel, slipping back between the crowds, into anonymity. Pass the Ferris Wheel again, the game booths, the cotton candy stand housed in a commercially constructed log shack. The faint scent of popcorn filters through clear air before being pulled into the night.

Skylar reaches into her purse and pulls out a familiar brand. She sticks the cigarette in her mouth and grabs a set of matches. The fumes of sulfur engulf my senses before nicotine-laced fog takes hold of my nostrils.

“That’s so bad for you,” I mock.

“Shut up,” she says, “If I’m going to die young, you can bet I’m going to live the rest of it very fast.”

“Dancing. Stalking. Smoking. All these things were beyond you, Skye. Have to say, I like the new you. What’s next?”

She stops. Gray eyes drift upwards to a structure breaching the countryside backdrop. Something tall, in ultimate bad taste and shaped like a death trap. On a whim, she drops the cigarette, and starts toward a line for the roller coaster. Like she won’t live long enough to accomplish both.

“Come on, Len!”

I shake my head.

“Don’t be a wimp!”

Sigh. I follow her into line, one bursting at the seams with teenagers, disgruntled fathers and their youngsters. A human train moves along at a snail’s pace as I shuffle between sides uncomfortably.

“I thought you hated roller coasters,” I remark.

“You hate roller coasters, Len.”

“I take it this is something else you’re actively embracing?”

“What can I say? I’m not going to die in a hospital bed, at least.”

One of the dads in front of us overhears Skylar and glares back at her.

“Don’t worry. I’m not contagious,” she clarifies, “Although, it’s not so nice to stare at sick people.”

The man mutters something and looks away.

I check whether my jaw is still attached to my cheekbones.

“Wow.”

“What? Because I told him to mind his own business?” she asks.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so confrontational with strangers.”

“I guess a lot does change in a decade.”

The line continues to push forward, twelve people at a time. From where we started, it’s progressed a little over halfway. The structure to our left shudders with the sounds of rumbling train-cars and their cheering occupants.

“So I think it’s my turn to ask a question,” I say.

“Shoot.”

“If the doctors came to you tomorrow morning and said they’d been wrong; you were going to live for another ten years, the whole shebang. Would it change anything?”

“I’m not sure what you’re asking,” she says, “Are you asking whether I’d keep doing crazy things I hate just for the sake of doing them, or whether I’d go back to my old life and revert back to who I used to be?”

“That phrasing works.”

She thinks on it, as if building the perfect answer in her brain.

“The doctor who came to my room with the MRI results couldn’t have been older than twenty-five. I don’t think she’d ever had to personally tell a patient anything like that. It took a while to stop beating around the bush and finally tell me. I know what a blood clot is. She proved living people shouldn’t hand out death sentences. Their delivery sucks.”

“”Do you always talk like you’re already dead?”

“In a way, I am. I did the denial thing, the anger and bargaining. I got to depression and I slept. A lot. Somewhere, in that huge clusterfuck of recurrent nightmares, there was a bit of serenity. But the doctors aren’t wrong, Leonard. Dying changes something in you. Even if they came to me tomorrow and told me they were, it’s part of me now. I’ll always live today like it’s my last.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Skylar wraps her fingers around the thick of my wrist.

“You have no reason to be sorry.”

How can she be so calm?

Why doesn’t her voice waiver, or her eyes tear?

Almost having inched our way to the stairs leading up to the loading platform, a couple juveniles hanging off the railing are approached by a security guard who escorts the punks out of line.

“If anything, Leonard, I have everything to thank you for.”

Ten steps to go.

I am not going to enjoy this.

“Why is that ?”

One of the trains comes to rest above us. Footsteps pound across the opposite end of the platform, a crowd spilling down a different staircase. Some are carried off into other corners of the carnival. Others rendezvous with their friends at the back of the line, ranting and raving about how great the ride was and vowing a repeat performance.

I can see the train cars now.

“I don’t know,” she replies, “With you, there doesn’t have to be a thing.”

“A thing?”

“The thousand pound elephant in the room called death?” she asks. “For the writers among us, let’s call it ‘dying with dignity’.”

“You remembered,” I say, somewhat impressed.

She grins. “Of course I do. Leonard the aspiring writer. It was romantic. I loved that about you. But I haven’t seen your name much at the bookstore, so I wasn’t sure how to broach that topic.”

“I wrote a couple. Published none.”

“Yeah,” she says, “well, don’t give up on your dreams, sweetie. Your day job’s not doing you any favours.”

“Funny. My parents always told me the opposite.”

“And how are they?”

“Dead.”

“I’m sorry. Natural?”

“Car crash. Nine years ago. And I’ve made my peace with it. Not sure Luke has, but he has way too many other, self-created problems to deal with first. And that’s kind of what I’m trying to say here, Skye.”

“About what?”

“Dying with dignity includes your family, too. Now, I’m not going through what you are, and it’s not my place, but I would want my family to not….be caught by surprise, you know?”

We’re almost at the gate now. The smell of sweat is pervasive, more than a hundred people crammed together.

“That’s the problem,” Skylar says, “Telling the world will make me look vulnerable. I don’t want to look vulnerable. Not many choose the timing, but some of us can control the circumstances. I’m not going to be kept alive by machines. That, to me, is not dignity.”

Another set of cars unloads and finally we’re standing at remotely opened gates. The operator sits in a booth to our right. Two college girls ushering people in and out like a revolving door every few minutes compare boyfriends and nail colors in their downtime.

“You ready?” Skylar asks as the next car comes rolling in and several wheezing people take their leave down the other side.

“Abso-fuckin’-lutely not.”

She chuckles, slaps me in the chest with the back of her hand.

“Suck it up, buttercup. I’m forcing you to do this one time. Not only will you live, but I’ll have you home to your fiancee by eleven.”

The gate opens and we take our seats. The cold steel car locks its occupants in with colder steel bars cranking down in our laps. To make matters worse, there’s not much protection on either side of me.

“I’m not going to lie,” I say. “I’ve never been on a roller coaster.”

A schoolgirl giggle escapes her lips.

“Double score for me.”


Leonard the Liar by Nicholas Gagnier is scheduled for release on Tuesday, July 24th and will be available on Amazon.com

Christine Ray Reviews VINE: BOOK OF POETRY BY MELODY LEE — July 22, 2018

Christine Ray Reviews VINE: BOOK OF POETRY BY MELODY LEE

I have only recently been introduced to the poetry of Melody Lee and had only read a single piece before I dove into Vine: Book of Poetry, her recently released second book.  Vine is divided into five sections: Clematis, Honeysuckle, Jasmine, Ivy, and Wisteria.  Lee provides background information about the qualities and lore of each plant, which helped set the stage for each section as well as provide me with some nifty garden trivia.

What struck me from the very first poem This Is How I Know is how beautiful Lee’s imagery is:

‘It gracefully dances up my spine
Gently wrapping around my heart
And I flourish extravagantly’

One of my favorite pieces in the collection is Cunning Linguist, which appeals to the senses. It is multisensory and tactile, with language such as ‘I wear it like luxurious cashmere’ and ‘I gulp, I sip, swallow.’ My favorite line in the whole book also comes from this piece. She declares: ‘I am a book harlot.’ I smiled to myself and said, ‘Me too!’

Vine is filled with sumptuous love poems such as Coffee, which starts with sensuous lines ‘Pour yourself a cup of steaming coffee/honey, then come pour yourself into me’ but also has an edge that I quite liked the bite of.  Lines such as ‘but we worship each other/on skin and dirty knees’ from Let’s Be Honest or ‘Sometimes poetry is dark and brutal/has fangs and teeth’ from Dear Reader provide balance to the softer poems in the book.

Although much of Vine is concerned with the ebb and flow of lovers, Lee also has a passionate affair with poetry. Another personal favorite, Dear Reader, displays this eloquently:

‘Don’t say poetry doesn’t make sense
while you are eating the words
as if they are a last meal,
as your backbone curves, as goose bumps
rise on your legs, arms.
That is all the sense poetry needs to make.’

Where Lee’s longer love poems are lush and languid, her punctuations of micro poetry are sometimes pointed and bracing, such as the poem Warning:

‘They should have warned you
that little princesses grow up
to be red rocks and raging seas,
fire dragons and warrior queens.’

I also loved the sly social commentary to be found in Lee’s piece Church with such lines as ‘Truth is, I am allergic to hypocrites’ and

‘If Jesus and His apostles were here,
surely, they would be rolling their eyes,
maybe even tipping over tables,
if you would even allow them and their dirty feet
into your spotless, sterile sanctuaries.’

I finished Vine a firm Melody Lee fan with a keen longing to hear more of her voice, particularly her sharp social observations and pieces such as Insanity Invades Like a Tumor, which starts off sounding like another of her love poems, but quickly turns deliciously dark, bringing to mind the writing of Edgar Allen Poe.  Good thing her first book, Moon Gypsy, is already on its way.

Vine: Book of Poetry is available through Amazon and other major retailers