Tavis Ryan King

London

Tavis is a psychologist with a passionate love of psychodynamic, humanistic and social psychology.

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Full of Promise and Wonder; Looking Toward Maturity

"The Baby Whisperer" by Jennifer Aaron-Foster is a fascinating tale that asks the question, 'What if babies could speak, and what would they talk about?' Admittedly, the concept is not new; it has been thoroughly covered across Hollywood in the 'Look Who's Talking' films, as well as Television if you count 'Muppet Babies'. What Ms. Aaron-Foster offers to the buffet of the talking baby genre is a mystery more similar to crime thrillers than innocent comedy. [Rating: 3.75 Stars]

Christine, the protagonist, is born with a special gift of talking to babies and she has recently decided to use her gift to charitably help the poor unfortunate wealthy white mothers of Kensington and Chelsea in the city of London. However, as Christine's popularity grows with the well-to-do yummy mummies, this creates media interest and leads to a chance encounter with a baby on the brink of death at the hands of a deceptive baby killer.

There is so much to congratulate Ms. Aaron-Foster for with this novel. Christine is a very well developed mixed-race woman of colour in London and makes space and a voice in the thriller mystery genre not normally seen or heard. Her setting is hugely believable and well communicated to the reader and at the heart of this novel is a new and exciting story that has never been told before.

It is these redeeming and worthy qualities that makes this book a frustrating read at times because there are quite a few areas in need of improvement. There are minor grammar and punctuation errors which are easily forgivable. However, what is frustrating is that the narration jumps point-of-view frequently and without a transition sentence to signpost the reader. At times, the reader has very few cues to know if the narrator is Christine, a baby, a friend, a mother, an ancestor, or simply a side character the reader was never properly introduced to (or particularly cares about). This leads into the second issue which needs to be addressed-just whose story is this anyway? I appreciate that the multi-perspective approach is intended to communicate the collectivistic nature of humanity and add to the mystery, however, there are numerous times when quite simply the stories and chapters do not move the story forward. Case-in-point, the entirety of Chapter 2 is heavy handed mystical foreshadowing that simply was not necessary. The story could have been told better without it. And this feeds into the final problem of the project: there is too much telling by the narrator and not enough showing. For example, when Christine talks to the media, we are given great detail about a conversation with one TV producer who she manages to put on ice, just to be told later in broad strokes she cocked up a conversation with a second producer later in the day and she handed over her personal information without a fight. This reads as inexperienced storytelling. First, I would have rather seen Christine mishandle that phone call rather be told and second, her skill at withholding information from the first producer made the telling of the second call completely unbelievable to the point of nearly destabilising the fantasy.

The story is wonderful and should see the light of the world, it just needs one more editing cycle that seeks to clear cut rather than add. They key thing is to only include what moves the story forward and cut everything that doesn't. I would suggest focusing on only three protagonists and tell the story only from their perspectives.

This feedback is tough to deliver in a review but I wish to stress this novel is worth it and for me it is the theme of being in-between worlds that qualifies the story as special. Christine and the babies have much in common. Christine is a mixed-race, multi-ethnic woman who was raised working-class, works middle-class and is forced into the social world of the upper-class. She touches on so many worlds and yet all of these worlds question, frequently reject and occasionally accept her-but only when her services are required; similarly to the babies who are stuck in the physical and mystical worlds defined by huge ancestral knowledge and the inability to act on any of it. This is the reason I read the book to the very end--to find out how in this world-between-worlds Christine would help the babies stuck in the crawl-spaces of life, death and paradise. At risk of being one degree too academic, Christine's story is about her intersectional identity and I found this theme to be what kept me coming back again and again, despite some of the more challenging weaknesses of the narrative.

In summary, this novel is a lot like its infant protagonists; there is so much promise in this story, but it just needs to grow up a bit more to really be an adult fantasy thriller. I think with one more revision, "The Baby Whisperer" will definitely reach publishable quality, and I wish to thank Ms. Aaron-Foster for inviting me into her stunning world of mystical London. I enjoyed much of it!

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With a bit more Luck, HIGHGATE will cast a spell on readers

Scoobert Mills' HIGHGATE is a wonderful concoction of magic, horror, love and comedy.  The balance is just right and the lucky protagonist, Phineas Luck, benefits from the intriguing and macabre world that has revealed itself to him [Rating: 3.75 Stars].

The plot surrounds Luck who is down and out and living homeless in London.  He tried the traditional family, he tried God, and nothing seemed to work. Like many people in the UK, poor Luck slipped through the cracks and found himself homeless.  It's a sad tale because it is one that rings true to reality before anything fantastic really begins.  However, while waiting for a handout, Luck observes a supernatural conflict involving the wizened Denton who seems to be murdering ghostly shadows that escape Highgate Cemetery. The conflict leaves Luck in the hospital, for sticking his neck out to save the old man, and his reward when he wakes up is watching the old man fake Luck's death and sweep him away to the world of magic.  Luck learns from Denton that he has been called to be a 'Custodian'; a future keeper of Highgate Cemetery and protector of the living and the dead.

First, Mr. Mills needs to be thoroughly complimented on the strength of the originality in this fantasy plot and his skill at building a darkly magical world in The Big Smoke. It is hard to not see this book as influenced by Harry Potter's world (which I say meant as a compliment), but not the mystical magic bubble of rural Hogwarts Castle; rather, the sinister and threatening world of Magical London where Harry Potter barely spends his time and barely survives. In this place, Luck stands out as someone who is a survivor of both the non-magical and magical worlds.  Mills' concepts like the cemetery network of London, the role and powers of Custodians, the social hierarchy of ghosts, custodians, wizards, witches and demons has such a depth to them, I was putty in Mills' skilled hands-and I think any fan of fantasy will be too.

However, underneath my praise I do need to feedback that there are fundamental flaws to this story that detracts from the wonder of HIGHGATE. First, unfortunately I have to criticise the grammar, syntax, punctuation, word choice and layout of the novel.  Sadly, Mills offends them all.  Now, I am not a grammar Nazi.  I have a rule when reading Inkitt novels: if the grammar mistake does not detract from the meaning of the sentence or significantly get in the way of my understanding of the story, then no harm-no foul. However, on numerous occasions this text has made mistakes that upset the flow.  Toward the end, nary a sentence even gets a full stop to tell you the sentence is completed. There is a chapter out of sync from the upload (39, found in chapter 38). Sadly, they all add up and really let the wonderful story down. Now I get editing is not fun and tedious (I've been editing my novel for nearly eight years and I know if you look you will find one more mistake) but the situation with HIGHGATE is that really does come across as though the author didn't respect the work enough to see the novel through to completion. I hope that he does as it justifies editing to make the story shine. 

My second criticism is less superficial than editing. On one hand, I love the supporting cast of this book to no end.  They have depth, humour, unique strengths and weaknesses and many possible developmental outcomes if another book is written (I've since done more research and there are two more sequels available outside of the Inkitt library). However, the least believable character for me is the Protagonist, Luck. There are certain things about Luck that leave me unconvinced that his parts do come to a whole.  For example, he has been homeless for a long time now. However, the psychology of homelessness is missed a bit when Luck is so easily convinced to live domestically in Highgate. Many homeless people take long periods of time or never fully go back to living in a home. I felt like Luck settled too quickly, too smoothly. For a horror, this part of the novel read more like Little Orphan Annie and could have been an chance to develop the character. Further, there are a plethora of severe mental illnesses associated with homelessness that Luck seems immune to.  The streets made him tough but not sick? In any way? Homelessness for Luck comes across as extreme camping and the only scar on his identity are his unwashed dreadlocks and beard on his face. I think this is a missed opportunity to give Luck depth.  This lack of an inner world further comes through when I know he aged to his mid-40s but speaks and carries on like a teenager.  The references to his 'awkward boner[s]' feels more Bevis and Butthead than high fantasy, horror, gritty reality or well-executed comedy.  I also wish to state I'm OK with crass and bawdy dialogue, I just felt this was too immature for a strong, world-weary middle-aged lead.  Moreover, I was left even more confused when Luck reveals a vocabulary that I'm convinced he is not capable of.  He uses the word 'conflagration' at one point which I feel is well beyond Luck's word bank.  Phineas is not the sum of his very scattered parts and this has consequences for the plot. Because I am not convinced of Luck, I am neither convinced of his romantic relationship later on. I encourage Mr. Mills to think about Phineas further and who Luck is as a genuine person rather than an avatar with a character sheet of component characteristics that come together unnaturally. I would offer advice and say when the option presents itself for a choice between a vulgar joke/$10 word and character development, go for the latter.

With all that said, there are many, many redeeming things about HIGHGATE that made reaching the last page easy and the previous missteps not difficult to overlook.  The mystery is genuine and did have me guessing throughout to the very end. The way Luck's powers are revealed to him are wondrous to both him and the reader.  The comedy is often executed well and the effective cliffhanger details has guaranteed I will read the sequel no matter what.

At this stage, I sadly do not think that this novel will win Inkitt's contest in its current form. However, it has won my heart and I will be following Phineas to whatever dark corner of London he needs to visit next! I fully recommend others read this book, particularly those who are fans of the fantasy-horror-comedy triad.

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The Book Review to End All Book Reviews

"What Happened to Charlie Carmine" is a fabulous mo-gee-toe cocktail fuelled midget orgy of psychology, fantasy and sarcasm. I laughed out loud when reading this novel so many times it made the London commuters I shared space with look at me with curious disdain - and I did not care. [Rating: 4.50 Stars]

The protagonist, Jamie, is an alcoholic with bipolar personality disorder, and it shows. Told in the first person, Jamie frequently breaks narration with distractions, intrusive thoughts and narcissistic observations. At first it is difficult to tell where the mental illness ends, and the asshole personality begins (That's right, I said asshole in a review and it's to test your boundaries. The text is fabulously crass and vibrantly foul so be prepared!). However, this really is the best way to meet Jamie; drunk and extorting alcohol from teenage convenience store workers in the middle of the night, and sharing his drink with the charismatic local hobo, Hairy7.

It's just another boozy night of video games and stolen liquor when Jamie's best friend, Charlie Carmine, calls to arrange a make-up dinner between Jamie and Charlie's fiancée, Katie. Invitation begrudgingly accepted, all appears to go like clockwork until Katie and Jamie realise Charlie's been kidnapped in a cloud of putrid fur. These two rivals for Charlie's affection enlist the help of Hairy7 and march into the woods to find put who, or what, kidnapped Charlie Carmine.

This novel is very well crafted with personality (disorder) oozing out of every orifice. I loved the meeting of abnormal psychology and fantasy as it always kept me guessing whether Jamie was whipping up mass hysteria, creating a fantasy in his own mind, or seeing the world the way it really is.

As feedback for Mr. Butler, who should be published in paperback press immediately, there were times when I felt the culture of the characters were overlooked. The story is supposed to be set in England, but at times felt more American than English. Jamie spoke of convenience stores, not off licenses. He dreamed about hot dogs but not sausages. There was overuse of the genuine address of "dude" and nary an accent could be detected, even on the Indian security guard of said convenience store. However, while the real world at times feels false, the fantasy world Butler creates is as genuine as it is surprising and very believable at its most unbelievable.

Butler's writing style fits neatly in between the outlandishness of American author, Christopher Moore and kitchen sink fantasy drama British author, Paul Magrs. I was never bored in reading about What Happened to Charlie Carmine, and I hope to see Butler in print with Inkitt before the next summer solstice.

SPOILER ENDING: To Mr. Butler, I humbly ask: Can the next book be entitled, "Delousing Ricardo Aldebaran"?

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A Magical Steampunk Crime Adventure

Shadow's Ascendance by Mr. Walley is a fun adventure of blending genres and boundaries. It's half steampunk magical adventure--half hard-boiled cop drama. The protagonist, Jonas, is half-ogre, half-human. The cop team made up of Jonas and his partner, Dorf; the former heterosexual and magical while the latter is gay and technologically inclined. The blurred lines and contrasts of this story show real ingenuity in creativity and the story is well conceived, if not always well delivered.

The plot begins strong. In the first act, we discover a woman of questionable descent is ritualistically murdered in the street by dark magical means. Our men investigate that murder and go into the countryside to do battle with magical minions. The second act is made of various witnesses, clues and murders as they work out what first murder is about while avoiding threats to their own lives. So far, so good.

My first admission as a reviewer is this is the first steampunk book I have ever read, full stop. As a novice to the genre, it was nice to be able to rely on my knowledge of cop dramas when the steam and magic got a bit thick. There were times when the steam-punk and magical exposition annoyed me. Jonas has a tendency in the middle of action sequences to go into a deep explanatory soliloquy that would have been better delivered somewhere else in the book. For example, when Jonas is fighting the blood beast, he goes into a long explanation about magic mechanics with all the thrill of reading a Dungeons and Dragons manual. This would have been better moved to the chapter with the school kids at the cop shop specifically there to learn about magic.

For me, the fast-paced adventure falls apart in the third act right at Chapter 33. It's difficult to explain my feedback without going into spoilers, but essentially, a character kills a witness in a critical moment who shouldn't have been killed (like an inverse of Hamlet; a character who should have killed a character at a critical moment but didn't), a romance is farcically forced that should never have been forced, a big reveal is made that isn't really that big of a reveal, and a big bad is killed in a rather underwhelming way by a scene stealing supporting cast member followed by a denouement of unfinished major plot lines. I'm disappointed to report I was left frustrated and underwhelmed after what was generally a very well-constructed first 250 pages. I hate to give negative feedback without support so I would suggest to the author that he try reading the book completely skipping over chapter 33, 34 and half of 35. None of those chapters were necessary. I think many of the issues could be resolved with a 'less is more' attitude toward editing. The story could be improved just by removing characters and plot lines that do not drive the primary plot. I would also suggest trying to rewrite the ending without the last-minute exposition involved in the big reveal and without intervention by the supporting cast. The results of the creative writing challenge could be surprising because I believe Jonas is capable of much more than what the ending gives him credit for.

To end on a positive note though, I mentioned the scene-stealing supporting cast earlier and I wish to emphasise, I loved almost the entire supporting cast! The colour, emotions and mystery that Dorf, Mama Crea, Greg, Sean, Natalya, The Chief, Madame Darya, Nicolas even Stumpy interjected into every scene they participated in made me crave for more. Every one of them stole the show at every turn. It is so hard to pick a favourite. On the other hand, I know who I don't like at all, and sadly that is the love interest. It may all be down to a matter of taste but here is my feedback: I prefer my cop dramas to be bitter and scorned in love. The cop doesn't fall in love in the end and that's why he stays hardened to the world with a keen sense of justice. Furthermore, a copper that is scorned in love is more in keeping with detective noir genre which seems to be the theme being developed. Make more use of the cast of good characters at your disposal and minimise (or better yet, eliminate) the romance. That's not the genre I came here for, anyway.

Taken in its totality, Shadow's Ascendance set up the reader for a fantastic adventure, a swarthy mystery and a beautiful and fascinating world, however, it's a story that loses steam and ends a bit deflated. However, I think that the diehard genre fans will not mind and I would not be surprised if Jonas and Dorf have a very loyal following in the future. I want to thank Mr. Walley for sharing his hard work on Inkitt. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Shadow’s Ascendance overall and Jonas made an excellent first impression on the world of steampunk with me. I am certain I will return again because of Mr. Walley’s great work.

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