Book review: ‘Panther’ by David Owen (guest post)

Review written by Hannah Froggatt

‘Panther’ by David Owen is a coming of age YA novel focusing on the relationship between the teenage protagonist, Derrick, and his older sister Charlotte. Ever since Charlotte was diagnosed with major depression, her illness has been tearing the family apart. The stress has led Derrick to develop a compulsive eating disorder. However when he hears that a Panther has recently escaped from a local zoo, Derrick thinks that maybe capturing it can be his salvation, that maybe stopping the beast in it’s physical form will be enough to save his sister too.

When you first pick up Panther, you’re struck by its veracity. The characterisation is masterful. Derrick, our protagonist, is a perfect blend of naïvety and worldliness: perceptive enough to see his family is falling apart but ill-equipped to help them. Charlotte’s barbed interactions with Derrick are the best parts of the book, managing to be both sardonic and tender whilst digging right to the heart of Panther’s central theme of understanding — and accepting what we can’t understand. Despite some slightly self-conscious discussion of social media, Owen’s grasp of teenage world-views is sterling.

So is the depiction of mental health disorders. Few writers manage to depict such illnesses this dispassionately, but more impressive is Owen’s understanding of the three-dimensional presence of issues like depression. Derrick’s bewilderment at Charlotte’s behaviour — and his own — is completely genuine, and an excellent standpoint from which to explore how it affects those nearest sufferer and how it disrupts the narratives of our lives.

The only thing that doesn’t work is, unfortunately, the central metaphor. Derrick’s obsession with the escaped panther supposedly roaming his neighbourhood feels jarring and childish for the character’s years. The panther is meant to represent the depression that preys on Derrick’s family, but this clumsy attempt at magical realism clashes horribly with the blunt naturalism that makes the rest of the story so powerful.

Panther aside, it’s still worth a read. The beautiful character-craft and unblinking exploration of mental health make it thoroughly worth your time.

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BOOK LAUNCH: This Really Happened

It’s BOOK LAUNCH day! It’s March 1st and to celebrate the start of spring, my New Adult novel ‘This Really Happened’ is now available on Amazon worldwide!

I can’t say how excited I am. This book has been years in the making. I started it during my first year at University, when I was studying a creative writing degree. It was the best year of my life and I was desperate to immortalise it somehow, so I decided to write about it.

While the events and characters in ‘This Really Happened’ are purely fictional (luckily my university experiences were nowhere near this traumatic), the emotion behind it is very real. The excitement, the scary and liberating idea of independence, the confusion, the loneliness, the forging of strong friendships that will last a lifetime. University is a rollercoaster; for many it’s their first time leaving home, which can be both a positive and negative thing. It’s a chance to take responsibility for your own life, to live by your own rules and discover new sides to yourself that you didn’t even know existed. It’s intense, and tiring, but also life-affirming and life-changing in so many ways.

I don’t see enough books about University out there. The literary narrative for young people nowadays seems to stop as soon as they reach 18, at which point they’re deemed ‘adults’. But life doesn’t work that way and age can’t be defined by a number or the ability to legally buy alcohol. Leaving home and trying to forge your own path in life is only the beginning. I think, more than anything, age is defined by experiences. So at the heart of it, ‘This Really Happened’ is a coming-of-age story. It’s a story about a group of young people learning to be responsible adults and dealing with all the obstacles that life throws at them.

You can buy ‘This Really Happened’ online here: 

Amazon US

Amazon UK

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I’m also looking to give away a limited number of review copies – if this is something you would be interested in, please get in contact

 

 

This Really Happened: Excerpt

This really happened
POSTED ON FEBRUARY 24, 2014 / BY ERIN T / LEAVE A COMMENT / FACEBOOK

When I was nine and my sister Naomi was eleven, our parents took us to the Natural History museum in London for the first time. Like any child I was fascinated by the dinosaur displays, the buttons and interactive games.

But the thing I remember most clearly about that day are the whale bones.

The skeleton of the blue whale took up the entire room, hanging ominously from the ceiling like a phantom observing the mortals passing below it. The bones were a dull bronze, as if they’d been white once but had been left out past their expiry date.

I remember running the length of the ribs, trying to count the steps. It hurt my head to imagine that such a ghastly, claw-like structure also existed within my own tiny chest, holding my organs captive like the bars of a prison cell. I couldn’t imagine sharing anything in common with the relic that hung above us, silent, a mere shell of the impressive mammal it had once been.

Naomi did not share my fascination.

“It’s not even real,” she said, barely glancing at it, more interested in the new pink flip-phone she’d gotten last month.

“What? It so is.” I glared at her, offended that she didn’t seem to care.
“It’s obviously fake. Come on, can’t you tell?” she rolled her eyes, in that patronising way big sisters do when they’re trying to assert themselves as the older, more mature one.

I looked helplessly up at my father, hoping for reassurance. His familiar smile, thin lips and a high forehead, wise grey eyes set in a face lined with age. “Is she right, daddy?” I asked. “Is it really fake?”

He put his hand on my shoulder and said: “We all have our own truths, Erin. Sometimes they’re the same, sometimes they’re not.”

I peered up at the skeleton again. In the cavities of the skull, the spaces between each rib, I saw glimpses of the sea, flashes of something that had once existed, now saturated with the past.

That day, I decided that the bones were real, no matter what Naomi or anyone else said. They were real to me, anyway, and that was enough.

This is an excerpt from my New Adult novel ‘This Really Happened’ which is now available on the Amazon Kindle store! Read the blurb on my books page and share this post on social media! 

This Really Happened: Excerpt

 

This really happened
POSTED ON FEBRUARY 24, 2014 / BY ERIN T / LEAVE A COMMENT / FACEBOOK

Have you ever wished you could go back and change something? Thought about all the things you would’ve done differently? Everyone has regrets, even the people who claim they don’t. The world is full of shit that could have been avoided with the power of hindsight. And it’s natural to wonder about the what-ifs, the could-have-beens, even though it won’t change anything. They’re just so much easier to believe in than reality.

I’m going to tell you a story. It’s a story about one night when everything changed, a night I go back to all the time, seeing my mistakes and wishing I could go back and change my own mind. Maybe if I could, I wouldn’t be writing this right now. Maybe if I could, the chain of events that followed wouldn’t have happened.

The story starts with Rita Ora: they were playing her in the club again that night, for the third week in a row. It wasn’t a bad song really, but it wasn’t my thing. The others didn’t seem too keen either; Allen was grimacing, Gabe had disappeared into the mass swarming the bar area long ago.

Through a haze of people, I spied Dan wrapped around a tall blonde girl, seemingly fused at the lips. Definitely his type. Ava was tottering around in her high heels, trying to simultaneously dance and stay upright. I was a happy medium; tipsy enough to feel that familiar warm buzz, sober enough to get myself home if I needed to. This was going to be a good night, I decided. Maybe one of the best. With everything that had happened, it’d been a while since all six of us had done something together and I’d really missed it.

Suddenly Charlotte appeared next to me, her whole face a bright, sweaty pink that complimented her fiery hair. “Selfie!” she demanded, throwing an arm around my shoulders and holding up a camera in front of us. We pressed our faces together and grinned stupidly up into the lens as it went click.

“You’ve got a bit of flush going on you know,” I laughed. “You’re completely red.”

She poked her cheeks in disbelief. “Really? Where?”

“Um, everywhere.”

She looked devastated. “But I don’t wanna look like a tomato.”

“Maybe you’ve just had a bit too much.”

She stumbled, nearly pulling me down with her. “Urgh…can we go outside for a bit? I need some air.”

“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.”

I half-carried, half-dragged her out of the club, past the main square until we found a more secluded set of steps to sit on. It was 2am in the morning and the campus was alive; all the lights were still on and students wandered around in groups, helping drunk friends back to their dorms. Friday night was always the most popular club night.

Charlotte immediately curled up and gripped her head in her hands, trailing ginger strands of hair through her fingers. She was shivering. I distantly realised that it must be freezing, even though the alcohol blanket had numbed me to it.

“Are you feeling okay?” I asked, tentatively placing a hand on her shoulder in what I hoped was a comforting gesture. “Do you think you might throw up?”

She shook her head but didn’t look up. “I-I’m just so cold,” she spoke through chattering teeth. Then she began to cry. It started out as a quiet sort of sniffling, but quickly turned into loud, messy sobbing. I was, understandably, alarmed.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, but she didn’t answer and only cried harder. Eventually, after ten minutes, she calmed down and sat up, looking at me through red-rimmed, watery eyes.

“Thank you,” she slurred.

I was beyond confused. “What for?”

“I’m not sure. Just thank you. For existing, I guess.”

“Um, you’re welcome?”

“I really like your existence,” she continued. “I think it’s great, honestly.”

“Charlotte, you’re really drunk right now.”

“I know, but I mean it. I want you to know that I appreciate you…being here. Does that make sense?”

I sighed and patted her shoulder. “Yeah. I like your existence, too.”

She smiled at me – a floaty, oblivious sort of smile that people only conjure up when they’re completely hammered. Then she leaned into my shoulder and I tentatively gave her a one-armed hug, feeling strangely protective of her. If I could redo that moment now, I wouldn’t have pulled away. I would have stayed there on those steps with her, holding her close. I would’ve made sure that nothing bad could happen to her. But I didn’t.

“Do you want to go home?” I asked, after a few minutes of comfortable silence. She shook her head. “Okay, water?” A small nod. “I’ll have to go buy some. Just wait here for me.”

I dragged myself up and crossed the road to get to the kebab van on the other side. I bought water for Charlotte and a burger for myself. Just as I was counting out the change I needed, I happened to glance in the direction of the road. I froze.

I felt like I was seeing it all in slow motion, an old black and white film on repeat.

Her stepping into the road. The car, sleek and black, careening around the corner. No. No, please god no –

The forever too-slow braking, the sound of wheels skidding. The car’s headlights illuminating her dazed expression for a moment like a spotlight as it made contact. Her lying on the ground. Too still, too still.

Then I heard screaming, distant and muffled, as if I was underwater. It took me a long time to realise that I was the one screaming.

This is an excerpt from my new New Adult novel ‘This Really Happened’ which will be released on Amazon March 1st! Read the blurb on my books page and follow for more sneak previews and updates coming soon. If you’re a book blogger and interested in getting an ARC review copy, get in contact at annmariemcqueen@aol.com 

This Really Happened (COVER REVEAL)

pieces-2

“We all have our own truths. Sometimes they’re the same. Sometimes they’re not.”

Erin has never really known who she is or what she wants, especially when it comes to relationships. That is, until she starts her first year at University and meets her new flatmate Allen.

Reckless, eccentric and intensely creative, Allen is everything Erin doesn’t have the courage to be and she’s immediately drawn to him. She’s sure it’s a mutual feeling, too, until he starts dating their flatmate Charlotte instead.

Then one night changes everything.

When a drunken mistake ends in tragedy and Charlotte is left fighting for her life, the victim of a hit-and-run, there’s only one question everyone’s asking: what really happened? Erin has an answer to that, more than one in fact, but running from the truth is far easier than facing up to it…

‘This Really Happened’ is a YA drama being released on the Amazon Kindle Store March 1st. Follow for more updates, sneak peaks and giveaways to be announced in the near future! I’d also love to know what you think of the cover – please leave comments below.

Review: Number 9 Dream by David Mitchell

“Dreams are shores where the ocean of spirit meets the land of matter. Dreams are beaches where the yet-to-be, the once-were, the will-never-be may walk awhile with the still are.” 

Rating: 5/5 stars

I’ve just finished reading the novel ‘number9dream’ by David Mitchell, acclaimed author of ‘Cloud Atlas’ which was recently made into a film. It’s his second book and was shortlisted for a Booker prize (though in my opinion it should’ve won one.) Though it must be clear by the rating I gave it, I was thoroughly impressed with this novel. It’s the sort of book that makes you question your own sanity, as well as the author’s, but that’s what I loved about it. By the time I’d finished reading it I was beginning to wonder if I was in a dream or not as well.

I was given this book as a present from a friend who said it ‘reminded her of Haruki Murakami’ (who I absolutely adore). She couldn’t have been more right: not only is ‘number9dream’ in the same vein as this Japanese cult author, it is actually inspired by it and freely acknowledges ‘Norwegian Woods’ as its inspiration within the text. There are certainly many aspects shared by both books: the writing style, the surreal image of Tokyo and the characterisation of the two female protagonists (Ai Imago and Midori) have clear similarities. It seems the Beatles are a very popular muse in literature nowadays.
‘Number9dream’ is a coming of age story at heart. Much like Norwegian Woods, it’s about coming to terms with identity, finding love and dealing with loss. Eiji Miyake, the protagonist of the novel, travels to Tokyo with the goal of finding the father he’s never met. However along the way he gets side-tracked, falls in love and gets in trouble with the Yakuza. I guess that’s the simple summary of the story. Except the narrative structure is far more complicated, as it contrasts the parallel universes of reality and dreams, to the point where you’re no longer sure what’s real and what isn’t. So basically, it’s a 418 page existential crisis in bound print.
Eiji’s story is the over-arching backbone of the novel, and everything else within is perceived through his point of view, including his fantasies. Each chapter, or ‘dream’, features another of these ‘illusions’ that Eiji uses to escape from reality, sometimes through video games, or books, or film. In fact one of these ‘illusions’ has recently been made into a short film: it’s called ‘The Voorman problem.’ Fun fact: my screenwriting professor this year helped produce it! Another of my favourites was the chapter ‘Kai Ten’ in which Eiji reads the journal of his great uncle, who was a Kai-Ten torpedo pilot during the 2nd world war. Through these illusions, the author manages to showcase a number of different narratives and ways of story-telling, creating a compelling blend of voices.
One of the things I love most about this novel is its blatant pretentiousness. I know that sounds a bit strange, but it takes a lot of skill to pull off something so experimental. Though there are a lot of detailed, banal and very realistic descriptions of Tokyo, it’s clear the author is not confining his writing to the category of ‘believable.’ In fact a lot of the dialogue is precocious, quirky and witty in a way that real people just aren’t. But that’s okay, because it’s good dialogue and even though it’s a bit cheesy, sometimes cheesy can be good when done in the right way. The author doesn’t just make his meaning obvious, he goes a step further and has his characters actually discuss it. Oh, the irony and meta-drama.
One very apparent example of this is the chapter ‘Study of Tales’, which is a collection of children’s stories that Eiji reads. They are more like thinly-veiled allegories for the writing trade and publishing business, each story dealing with a different aspect including the search for originality and the effect of the internet revolution on publishing.
Overall, I love this book because despite the magic realism side, the heart of the narrative contains genuine granules of human truth. Eiji tries to escape from reality to deal with the loss of his sister, but in the end he has to face his past in order to heal. One of my favourite quotes from the book is this: “maybe the meaning of life lies in looking for it”. A valuable piece of advice, it’s the reminder that meanings are not a fixed point to strive for but something that can change and evolve with us.