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Book Review: The Sanctum by Pamela King Cable

Michael Brown. Miriam Carey. Trayvon Martin. Tanisha Anderson. We all know their names, and every time their names are spoken, we hear the ringing alarms that tell us that racism is as alive and well today as ever in American history. Now this same dark history is brought into the light in a Christian novel called The Sanctum by Pamela King Cable.

Thrown into the care of her alcoholic grandfather, Neeley McPherson is raised by his elderly farmhand named Gideon, a black man she grows to love. In the winter of 1959, she is only thirteen but has already experienced true horrors. When Gideon is accused of stealing a watch and using a whites-only restroom, she stands defiantly against everything wrong in the world and breaks him out of jail.

Catfish Cole, Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon of the Carolinas, pursues them across the Blue Ridge Mountains. After ice sends Gideon’s truck down a steep slope, they hike through a blizzard and arrive at a wolf sanctuary where Neeley crosses the bridge between the real and the supernatural.

There she discovers her grandfather’s deception, confronts the Klan, finds her faith in God, and uncovers the shocking secrets of the family who befriends her. The act of providing sanctuary leads to another tragedy but second chances and the defeat of prejudice grant Neeley’s most passionate desire.

In prose that touches on the shadowy noir of Gothic Southern fiction, this tale of suffering carries readers through the darkness and into the light of hope…hope for the characters and hope for America. Blending the awareness of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird with the social astuteness of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help and a faith in the transformational power of love found in Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, this timeless coming-of-age novel is a powerful commentary on what we once were…and what we can all become.

5 stars!

Pam’s other novels are also steeped in Bible-belt mystery and paranormal suspense. Televenge, the story of a woman who realizes her megachurch is actually a religious cult, has attracted attention from Fox News, CBS Atlanta, a major Hollywood film producer, and bloggers and media outlets worldwide.

She is also the author of Southern Fried Women, a collection of short stories that touch the heart.

Writing about her own fiction, she says:

“For me, it is within sanctuaries of brick and mortar; places of clapboard and canvas that characters hang ripe for picking. From the primitive church services of the mountain clans to the baptisms and sacraments in cathedrals and synagogues all over the world. From the hardworking men and women who testify in every run-down house of God in America to the charismatic high-dollar high-tech evangelicals televised in today’s megachurches, therein lie stories of unspeakable conflict, the forbidden, and often, the unexplained.”

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Author Interview: Pamela King Cable

Today we’re joined by Pamela King Cable, author of the chilling Televenge and the heartwarming Southern Fried Women. Her latest, The Sanctum, is a moving coming-of-age story dealing with one of America’s most pressing issues: racism. The novel features King’s usual blend of supernatural elements, mysteries in society and secrets of the heart to create evocative, heart-piercing stories.

How would your advice for new writers differ from advice you would offer writers who have been in the game for a while?

I could get myself in trouble, answering this question. If somebody tells you they’re not writing to make money, they are lying to you. We all want paid for our work. If a painter gets paid for his masterpieces, if a landscaper pockets cash for the curb appeal he adds to his client’s homes, and if a caterer makes a living on the weddings and parties she slaves over, then a writer should get paid for her books that took years to complete and publish.

But if you think the money comes easy, think again. You’re not going to get rich. In fact, keep your job. Writing will not pay your bills. Not for a long time. There’s a balance, and unfortunately it’ll take blood, sweat, and tears to find it. The writing and publishing industry is in desperate need of a major overhaul. Know that up front.

Realize the length of time it takes from finishing the novel to publication is painfully long. Some hip, cool publisher needs to find a way to shorten that time period and pass it on to a few of the old goats in the business. Know that the industry has set itself up as a God to the writer. Twenty-three-year-old New York City editors should not be allowed to judge a writer’s work.

Another warning to the newbie—be aware of the old, worn-out process of retailers returning your unsold books. It’s still the most ridiculous part of this business. Total nonsense. If the Gap can’t return its unsold blue jeans to the Levi Company, why should Barnes & Noble be allowed to return its unsold books to the publisher? This is an antiquated process that needs to stop. Now.

Newbies in this business—get your heads out of the clouds and see the writing world for what it truly is. If after you’ve done that, and you still want to write and publish … then do it with your eyes wide open to one final realization. It takes no less than ten years of writing, rewriting, and learning your craft before you are actually ready to publish.

Now, with all that said … there is no greater sense of accomplishment than leaving a legacy of a hard-earned published book. Nothing greater than that …

From your perspective as an author, what do you feel is the biggest challenge to the publishing industry today? Is there a way to solve that challenge?

I will refer you to my answer in question one. All of the above are big challenges. But instead of fancy/schmancy writing conferences that charge an arm and a leg, and teach you the same worn-out topics they taught you last year and the year before, let’s stop the madness of empty promises. Promises of editor and literary agent contacts. Do you realize how slim your chances are that those editors and literary agents will even remember your name? We need a Writer’s Convention where round table discussions result in finding real solutions to the serious issues at hand.

The problem is that writing is a solitary business.  We all work alone. And we like it that way. But until we confront the current issues and make strides to change them, the publishing world will continue to be run by the big dogs … the Mahogany Row Executives who really don’t give a damn about our issues. Their bottom line is all that matters. In the case of traditional publishing, they got us over a barrel and they know it.

What has inspired you to become a writer?

I write about religion and spirituality with paranormal twists unearthed from my family’s history. I write about my passions, what moves me, what shoots out of me like a rocket. My key inspirational force is my spirituality.

I was born in the South, a coal miner’s granddaughter, but my father escaped the mines, went to college and moved his family to Ohio to work for the rubber companies in 1959. I spent every weekend as a little girl traveling back to the Appalachian Mountains. My memories of my childhood run as strong as a steel-belted radial tire and as deep as an Appalachian swimming hole. As a little girl, I was a transplanted hick in a Yankee schoolroom. I grew up in the North. So my influence comes naturally from both regions. But the dusty roads in the coal towns of the ‘sixties are where my career as a writer was born.

How do you come up with your characters, and how do you make them interesting?

For me, it is within sanctuaries of brick and mortar; places of clapboard and canvas that characters hang ripe for picking. From the primitive church services of the mountain clans to the baptisms and sacraments in cathedrals and synagogues all over the world. From the hardworking men and women who testify in every run-down house of God in America to the charismatic high-dollar high-tech evangelicals televised in today’s megachurches, therein lie stories of unspeakable conflict, the forbidden, and often, the unexplained.

Do you plan on writing any other genres?

Not at all. There’s a mountain of material to cover in Historical Fiction. It’s like a black hole, drawing me in with no end in sight. I have stories in my head that may never see the light of day. There’s so little time allotted to any of us. It would take two lifetimes to get these stories from my head onto the page.

What inspired your new novel, The Sanctum?

Late in 2008, and for the next two years, I labored over a new story to give myself a break from the heat and intensity of Televenge. Little did I know of the fierce obsession and passion that would overtake me in writing The Sanctum. Wanting to include the possibility of the paranormal and spirituality from different points of view, I focused on a young girl with fuzzy, red hair who called herself Neeley, and the story began.

This skinny, parentless thirteen-year-old who wore thick eyeglasses and hand-me-down dresses captivated me from page one. Placing my little redheaded girl on a tobacco farm in 1959, and in the caring hands of an elderly African-American male, a rugged individual who wasn’t afraid of his gentle side, I quickly fell in love with them. The novel slowly wrote itself, dragging my heart behind it.

Many of my stories are based on people I’ve known and places I’ve been. History also plays a great part in my work. As a writer it is my desire to transport a reader’s mind—but my ultimate joy is to pierce your heart. When I was a little girl someone in my family taught me respect for all people. He said we were related to the great Martin Luther King since after all, my maiden name is King. I soon realized it wasn’t true, but I never forgot what he said. Later, I discovered blatant prejudice had incubated for decades within my family. My southern grandparents believed wholeheartedly in segregation.

For over a decade I lived near Summerfield, North Carolina, located northwest of Greensboro. This area is historically saturated with horse and tobacco farms, which today still dot the landscape. By chance I discovered James W. Cole (1924-1967) was ordained into the ministry in Summerfield at the Wayside Baptist Church in 1958. He toured as a tent evangelist and broadcast a Sunday morning radio program, becoming an active member of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and eventually the Grand Dragon of North and South Carolina. The man intrigued and appalled me, and since the first part of the book takes place in Summerfield during that time period, I wrote him into the story.

The International Civil Rights Center and Museum is located in the recently restored Woolworth’s building in downtown Greensboro, a Woolworth’s that also found its way into my story. As I further studied the Civil Rights Movement, I thought of it in terms of rights for all people. My great grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee, according to our family’s historian. So I then researched the Trail of Tears.

And finally the wolf appeared. An animal that has fascinated me all my life, the wolf is about family and order. It is a subtle character, but a voice to be reckoned with. I studied wolves carefully, and found people who loved the animal enough to create wolf sanctuaries. I spent time on a sanctuary near the town of Bakersville in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a five-hour drive from my home. When I arrived a sign read, The Wolf Sanctum. From that moment I called my novel, The Sanctum.

 Have you written other books that have been published?

 Southern Fried Women, Satya House Publications, 2010. Beth Hoffman, New York Times Bestselling Author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and Looking For Me, said:

“With a clear Southern voice and a remarkable gift of storytelling, Pamela King Cable has crafted a masterful collection of short stories. In themes ranging from flea markets to coal mine strikes, Southern Fried Women speaks of the wounds, joys, and sacrifices experienced by women who held strong in the winds of adversity and emerged bruised but miraculously unbroken. Each story is as thought provoking as it is beautifully written.”

Televenge, Satya House Publications,  2012. A review in Publisher’s Weekly notes:

“Cable’s unflinching fictional exposé of the dark side of televangelism has a human victim in the person of Andie Oliver. … Cable, a former member of a megachurch, places Andie’s desperate struggle against the oppression of (Reverend) Artury’s church, its brutal inner circle, murderous practices, financial fraud, and (husband) Joe’s abuse. This powerful story, skillfully written and with well-drawn characters, reveals the classic entrapment of vulnerable people in the name of a vengeful god …”

Library Journal wrote:

Televenge is “ … an emotional rollercoaster that ends as intensely as it begins . . . those who commit to Cable’s tome will find themselves captivated and deeply devoted to Andie. Fans of Fannie Flagg and Janet Evanovich will be hooked on this saga of religion, romance, and crime.” Library Journal Editor’s Pick BookExpo America 2012

Do you have a website and a blog? If so where can we find it?

You can find my blog on my website: www.pamelakingcable.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/southernfriedwomen/

Twitter: https://Twitter.com/pamelakingcable / @pamelakingcable

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2935883.Pamela_King_Cable

To purchase The Sanctum: http://www.amazon.com/Sanctum-Pamela-King-Cable/dp/1938499034/

The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones

The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones

Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Told in alternating segments that switch between different times (3 timelines total: one current, one in the recent past, and one roughly a century ago) and places, the narrative finally settles primarily into the now.
Considering the vast geography (several European nations) and time covered, and considering the idea at the heart of the story, this work should have been more compelling than it was. But I found the characterization lacking. This likely is due to the vast territories and timelines the story covers, and so isn’t really a flaw. Books that deliver this type of story don’t have much space for character development. Considering those constraints, then, the author has done a fine job getting readers to care about the people in this book.
The supernatural elements…and the fact that the shapeshifter hunts a specific family throughout time and down through the generations…is a fantastic concept. Overall, this is quite an enjoyable work that can be your next beach read.

4 stars

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Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite

Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite

Scribner Paperback/Simon & Schuster Inc. 1996

I finally picked up this book after remembering what a big splash the author made back in the mid-90s. I have to say that the splash was well deserved. If you know anything about the author’s books, you know that I mean that in the ways you’re probably thinking. But I also mean it in others.

The quality of the writing here is very strong. The characters are all generally drawn quite well, with the exception of

Andrew’s voice is compelling, and as he drives a majority of the events, having him take the lead in the first chapter is an excellent choice. And, despite the fact that he is a serial killer who revels in all the usual cruelty and unique bloodiness his obsession entails, he is a compelling character whenever his scenes queue up. A bad guy readers love to hate and love at the same time.

It is a particular testament to the author’s skill to note that the method by which Andrew escapes from prison is drawn quite believably in the novel…even skeptical readers will agree to suspend their disbelief.

Jay is a budding killer who has the discipline to avoid fouling the city where he lives with his own kills…until Tran, a particularly beautiful Vietnamese hustler throws his considerable charms at Jay’s feet.

Tran’s sections are very well drawn, and allow readers to walk in yet a third lifestyle and mindset that is very different than the first two offered up in this book.

Lucas is the one that is the least compelling. Perhaps this is because his illness keeps him quiet in terms of activity, or perhaps it’s because he has the most common, almost suburban, existence of all the characters. Still, his portrait, when added to the other three, rounds out this work and creates a richness that otherwise would be lacking.

The four are pulled ever more tightly together. The two killers begin to work together, and there is that bloody finale that had so many people squawking when the work came out. (The author was rejected by the publisher of all his previous books because of the gruesome climactic orgy.) Which certainly is shocking but really isn’t any more horrible or ugly to read than many of the sections the killer recalls and enacts in preceding scenes. Which leads you to wonder why this was rejected at all.

If you’re a gory fiction fan, this one is for you!

4 stars

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The Day She Died by Catriona McPherson

The Day She Died by Catriona McPherson

Midnight Ink/Llewellyn Worldwide 2011

Jessie has a fear of feathers. A phobia, really, total full-on medical name for it and everything fear of feathers. That’s where it starts.

Oh, wait. No. The book starts with a woman locked in some sort of box or vault or something. Readers aren’t sure because the space is dark. And the narrative doesn’t return to the box or vault except for a very few times.

So, the book whiplashes between a heavy, terrorizing scene and one that’s smarmily funny. Watch out, because these same weaknesses will show up again. The lady in the box isn’t visited enough to justify having her be at the opening, yet if we didn’t know she was in there the narrative wouldn’t have nearly as much drive.

Or would it? The rest of the book, Jessie’s story and the narrative flow and the characters and how the characters develop, are all quite enjoyable. How did it turn out that the lady in the box had to show up? Was this a publisher pushing the author to do something that wasn’t in the original draft, and the author caved because a contract with changes to the novel is better than no contract? Or were these scenes part of the original concept but haven’t been handled well by the author?

Interesting things to think about if you like to think about those kinds of things. But don’t let that stop you from reading this book. It’s a better-than-average take on the somewhat funny, self-denigrating yet more than capable female protagonist who stumbles on a mystery that must be solved. In time for the lady in the box to live, preferably, but since readers don’t really need to know that to enjoy this story, we could just overlook that, yes?

4 stars

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The Blue by Lucy Clarke

The Blue by Lucy Clarke

Touchstone

An interesting story that holds some unique challenges for the author. Lana has spent some months on a sailboat with a handful of others who are all running—either from something or to something in their lives. She too was hoping to find herself and a new life when she joined the raggedy band. But then someone died and she bailed.

Now, the boat she was on has sunk in a storm. The Blue, a yacht carrying a crew of five at the time it went down, is the object of a search and rescue mission. After struggling with her memories of those months on board, she goes to the Coast Guard to see if her best friend is among the survivors.

What follows are the interwoven stories of her time on board and the rescue attempt. What is revealed about the captain and first mate, the other crew, and the best friends tells a tale not so much of sordid or shocking secrets but one that is burdened with all too familiar human drama. The complexities of how we present ourselves to others, as well as the illusions we attempt to maintain even in the forced intimacy of situations like a shipboard life, provides a compelling read.

Although at times the narrative feels like it wanders slightly, the writing is strong and the human interrelationships will draw you in. Well worth the investment of time to engage with this story.

4 stars

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The Dinosaur Feather by S.J. Gazan

The Dinosaur Feather by S.J. Gazan

Translated from Danish by Charlotte Barslund

Published in Denmark by Glydendals Bogklubber 2008

Published in US by Quercus 2013

Very interesting premise, and a strong female protagonist. So, great start! Plus I’m a sucker for books from Denmark and surrounding nations, so of course I had to read this one.

It turned out to be an all right experience. Interesting enough to hold my attention for quite some time. But toward the end things got shaky. The big reveal at the end, the solving of the mystery and dealing justice to the criminal, felt common and too easy. Additionally, having the female protagonist subdue the killer, who far outstrips her in weight and strength, by capturing him with nothing more than her wits and two zip ties…yes, you read that right, zip ties…oversteps the bounds of credibility.

Overall, though, a quite enjoyable read if you are in the mood for a lark that isn’t too demanding and has nice character development.

3 stars

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