Hi Everyone! While I finish up working on another book review, I’m going to post something a little bit different. As some may recall, in October 2019 I read D. H. Schleicher‘s book “Then Came Darkness” and loved it. I had the pleasure of beta reading a couple short stories for Schleicher’s new collection “And Then We Vanish“. In exchange I received an ARC. I feel it would be unethical for me to call anything I write a “review” given I helped with feedback. That said, I like the author’s writing style and attention to detail. They are one of the authors that helped me develop my rating scale. I genuinely enjoy the stories and as an unpaid favor I want to support their book here.
I did have the chance to chat with Schleicher about the process behind putting together a collection of short stories. The stories in “And Then We Vanish” are everything from petrifying to hilarious, but they all share a common theme: disappearing. Using a theme, he narrowed down which stories to include and edit for the collection from the vast collection of short stories authors accumulate over the years.
For beta reading, I read “Upon The Unfortunate News Of My Death” and “Blue Heather”. While I loved them both, particularly the latter, I will focus on the former because it is incredibly relevant. There’s also something poetic about having the opportunity to harpoon one’s metaphorical white whale. My teaser:
In the digital age information can get misconstrued. Between all of the likes, comments, and shares when does real action need to take place beyond the armchair activism? What if we get it all wrong? As if poor Kayla Spaulding hasn’t dealt with enough insanity in her life, here’s one more fire to put out. At least we can enjoy some sadistic revenge.
I hope you consider picking up a copy of “And Then We Vanish” to read about Kayla Spaulding and the ten other stories. Did I mention that these stories are inclusive of a variety of well-researched and presented diverse characters?
There is a story in this book that opens with a school shooting. Please don’t let that deter you from reading the story and instead act as a content warning. It is one of the most moving stories in the entire collection in my opinion and is a reminder that Schleicher is talented at painting emotions onto pages with words. I am glad I had to wait to read it.
Thanks for reading and check back soon for another book review. As a friendly reminder, wash your hands and call your loved ones.
“A Twist of Starlight” begins with the tale of three children, the death of a mother, and the childhood of an evil half brother.
A couple hundred years later, we encounter a group of three men, seemingly disconnected from the previous chapters, capturing a scene.
From these flickers emerges a beautiful scene of a loving single father taking his baby boy for a hike up his favorite mountain, where they then take a rest together. Afterward, he picks up his son to find a half acorn clutched in his infant’s tiny hand.
Then we meet David, the infant that was once carried up the mountain. Now living in America, he is at a stagnant point in his life: dead-end relationship and stable but no longer fulfilling career as a doctor. He reminisces about his life, thinking of home with nostalgia and fondness. With these flashbacks, readers are given little hints at a time that link back to the previous vignettes. He receives the tragic news that two people he cares for deeply are suffering from health trouble: his Uncle Marc and Uncle Hugh. These are the men that helped raise him. As he travels back to Wales to surprise his family and give himself a fresh start, he continues to share memories. The wooden toys Marc carved for him as a child. The wooden crib. The lessons Hugh taught him in his garden and the children of another family friend, Bernie, that were his siblings of sorts.
He arrives home to find another family friend, Roy, at the house and that the group traveled up the mountain for the Midsummer celebration before his unannounced arrival. Onward David goes to track down these old men. When he arrives at camp, that’s when things start getting weird.
After the laughter, stories, and booze by the campfire, David’s father, Jon, murders someone on the jetty by the pond. David is taken aback, and the whirlwind truly begins. From here, David learns this his father, Marc, Bernie, and Hugh are more than the people he thought they were. And so is he!
A funeral, a celebration of life, and a battle against evil forces bent on their destruction leads to David’s father finding true love and the loss of more than one significant family member. As time passes, David discovers a sense of purpose in his new community. Most of all, he finds the happiness he never knew was possible.
My Overall Response:
I love the world Betty Valentine spun together in her first book. Fantasy is hard. I hold a lot of respect for authors that take the time to create an imaginary world with different rules, history, and mechanics than our own. At first, she brings readers into a world not unlike their own after first providing beautiful descriptions and submerging vignettes of seemingly disconnected stories. Don’t worry – they’re all connected, eventually.
I love the story. I love the characters. I love the plot. I love the way the beginning has seemingly discontinuous snapshots of the passage of time that each build on the other. I love the honoring of Icelandic influence. I love that there’s more than one big reveal for the reader.
The descriptions in the book are phenomenal, and I found myself wanting more. Valentine has a unique gift for combining modern vernacular with fantasy in a poetic fashion that significantly benefits the story. There were times it was impossible to read the book without having an accent envelope my mind as a reader.
My primary criticism is that I felt like the action in the book was way too dense, and I found myself wanting more from the death scenes of characters. I want to emphasize that this is my personal opinion and that Young Adult readers would benefit from the way these death scenes are written.
I want the universe Valentine created to expand, grow, and get published more. I want to have someone else I can play with in this universe because it’s fun, unique, and exceptional. I have often felt as though the LGBTQA audience does not have enough inclusive fantasy, and this book is an answer to that desire. I want people to be inspired to write their own fanfiction that takes place where the train line ends.
I was excited to hear that Betty Valentine will soon be releasing her next book, Overture and Beginnings (release date November 30, 2019). Please keep writing – I love your voice and what you bring to fantasy literature.
Absolutely! One of the primary themes of the book is self-discovery and coming out. I would definitely recommend for a Young Adult LGBTQA reading list.
Not a criticism, but an explanation for a feature of the book’s composition that gave me some trouble: the soft full-stop. On occasion, a reader will notice that there are full-stops mid-sentence followed by a lower case word. This is to indicate a pause. I love these unique features in writing and am excited to have read a book featuring such a linguistic treasure!
At times I did find the book to take the conversational narrative to an extreme. Still, I do not believe that this would cause too much impedance in a reader’s ability to enjoy the book. I do think that the conversational narrative lends itself really well to Young Adult audiences (13+ for Adult Themes).
Twilight Zone Moment:
This is the first book I am not going to declare any Twilight Zone Moments for. Anything remotely close added to the mystery, fantasy, and intrigue.
Want to know more about the author?
To read more about Betty Valentine you can visit her on Twitter and you can buy the book here. You can also read her profile on her publisher’s website, Green Cat, here. She recommends this publisher for new and emerging authors and I greatly appreciate her sharing this resource with the writing community.