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Review: The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson


The Wolves of Winter
Author:  Tyrell Johnson
Publisher:  Scribner, January 2, 2018
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages
List Price:  US$26.00; 9781501155697 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781501155673 (print); US$9.99 (eBook)

Review: The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson
A captivating tale of humanity pushed beyond its breaking point, of family and bonds of love forged when everything is lost, and of a heroic young woman who crosses a frozen landscape to find her destiny. This debut novel is written in a post-apocalyptic tradition that spans The Hunger Games and Station Eleven but blazes its own distinctive path.

Forget the old days. Forget summer. Forget warmth. Forget anything that doesn’t help you survive in the endless white wilderness beyond the edges of a fallen world.

Lynn McBride has learned much since society collapsed in the face of nuclear war and the relentless spread of disease. As the memories of her old life continue to haunt, she’s forced to forge ahead in the snow-drifted Canadian Yukon, learning how to hunt and trap and slaughter.

Shadows of the world before have found her tiny community—most prominently in the enigmatic figure of Jax, who brings with him dark secrets of the past and sets in motion a chain of events that will call Lynn to a role she never imagined.

Simultaneously a heartbreakingly sympathetic portrait of a young woman searching for the answer to who she is meant to be and a frightening vision of a merciless new world in which desperation rules, The Wolves of Winter is enveloping, propulsive, and poignant.



Melanie's Thoughts

One could be mistaken thinking that The Wolves of Winter was just another post apocalyptic tale of a small band of survivors trying to eek out a life in a cruel, bleak landscape.  In Johson's war and disease devastated world lives Lynn, a young woman trying to find her place in the small community her family has created in the snow covered landscape of northern Canada. Very few people survived the bombs that rained around the world or the deadly virus that spread in its wake. Lynn along with her mother, brother, uncle and a friend escape to the frozen wilds of Canada in an attempt to outrun the spread of the flu that has killed all of their loved ones. Lynn's 'life before' when her father was still alive, when she went to school, had friends and watched TV have all started to fade away to memory. Her new life revolves around hunting, trapping and snow. When an injured stranger wanders into their camp Lynn knows that everything is about to change. A stranger with secrets that are about to put Lynn and everyone she cares about in danger.

I was halfway through this book when it dawned on me that I was reading a debut novel. I was very pleasantly surprised by the sophistication of the characterization, the world building and elements of the plot. While the overall plot - post world war land, barely anyone survives but a plucky young heroine, mysterious tall dark and handsome and his dog, isn't new and it could have ended up being very bland and stereotypical. Luckily it didn't. Johnson really paints a rich picture of the frozen tundra in which Lynn, and what remains of her family, live. From the whiteness of the landscape to the crunchy hard bite of the snow - all set the scene for what is about to happen to the story's young protagonist. In fact, I thought that the environment (mostly the snow) could be considered a secondary character because of its impact on Lynn and those around her.

The story unfolds both in real-time and through Lynn's memories of her life before everything went to hell. Memories of her father, who is dead from the flu that killed so many others, are replayed through every chapter and give context to current events and provide the narrative for events in the past. Fans of this genre may not be surprised by most of the big reveals but it isn't the surprises or plot that draws you into this story...it is Lynn. This is a character driven story and Lynn is an authentic character who acts like what you would expect any young woman to act. She is neither brave nor a coward, she lives in the present but it is the past that steers her future.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Wolves of Winter. I can't say that it was perfect but I found it difficult to put down and difficult not to like the somewhat abrasive, imperfect Lynn. I can hardly wait to find out what other stories Johnson has to tell.

Interview with Tyrell Johnson, author of The Wolves of Winter


Please welcome Tyrell Johnson to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Wolves of Winter was published on January 2nd by Scribner.



Interview with Tyrell Johnson, author of The Wolves of Winter




TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?

Tyrell:  When I was in grade school, I wrote a five-page story about a farmer who loses his cow. In a twist no one saw coming, he finds the lost cow hiding at the top of a nearby tree.



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Tyrell:  I’m probably something of a hybrid. I start with an idea, setting, or character; I’ll have vague notions of plot; and then I’ll move forward one sentence at a time. Every once in a while, I’ll write a rough outline of where I think things are headed, but it’s very vague, and I often don’t stick to it.



TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Tyrell:  Right now it’s probably staying focused. I have a lot of things going on at the moment that keep drawing my attention away from the page and my time to be creative.



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Tyrell:  Everything from books I’ve read, to movies I’ve watched, to family and friends. These things blend together with my experience and personality and preferences and somehow inform my writing. That’s a very vague answer! Sorry.



TQDescribe The Wolves of Winter in 140 characters or less.

Tyrell:  A young woman surviving in a post-apocalyptic Yukon meets a stranger with secrets of the past that will change her life forever.



TQTell us something about The Wolves of Winter that is not found in the book description.

Tyrell:  There are 27 instances of the F word in the novel.



TQWhat inspired you to write The Wolves of Winter? What appeals to you about writing Post-Apocalyptic fiction?

Tyrell:  I knew I wanted to write a post-apocalyptic novel because I like the genre. I like the questions it poses about humanity and about what life would be like if we didn’t have the luxuries we have today. I was also a new father at the time and wanted to use that experience and those emotions in the novel, which is why the father/daughter relationship is so prevalent. And, finally, before any of this, I had been writing fiction primarily with male protagonists. However, many of my readers’ favorite characters were the females in my stories. So my wife very kindly urged me to go write a book with a female as the protagonist. I gave it a try.



TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Wolves of Winter?

Tyrell:  I did research on the flora and fauna of the Yukon and looked at a lot of maps. I also watched many YouTube videos on things like how to build an igloo and how to gut a deer. I didn’t want to just read about these things, I wanted to watch them being done so I could more accurately describe them. I don’t recommend, however, eating a turkey sandwich while watching a deer being field dressed.



TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Wolves of Winter?

Tyrell:  The cover was done in part by Pete Garceau and in part by HarperCollins Germany. We had the basic layout and background, but knew it still needed something to give it that edge. Then we saw the German cover of the novel, in which they use the figure of a woman in the place of the “I” in “Winter.” We thought it was a fantastic idea, inserted the woman into our own backdrop, and the cover was born. And no, it doesn’t depict any specific scene from the novel.



TQIn The Wolves of Winter who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Tyrell:  I suppose I might say my main character was both the easiest and the hardest. I’ve spent the most time in her head, so really, I feel like I know her best and could write her voice the easiest. However, she was also the hardest because I’m a man writing from a woman’s perspective, and so there were a lot of things that I was very consciously trying to get right.



TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Wolves of Winter?

Tyrell:  I didn’t intend to focus on any one social issue, however, I think there are issues that are sort of innate in the post-apocalyptic genre. It forces us to take a hard look at our ruling powers, at the environment, and at what we put value on in our lives. This is one of the reasons I like the genre: hopefully there’s a fascinating story with relatable characters, but there’s also that subtext (dare I call it a warning?) of society falling apart.



TQWhich question about The Wolves of Winter do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Tyrell:  Was the dog in the novel based off your own dog?

Yes! He’s the only character that is actually based off a character in real life. My dog is just as energetic, just as curious, just as happy, just as quasi-annoying as the dog, Wolf, in the book.



TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Wolves of Winter.

Tyrell:  I’ve always been a little partial to my first sentence: “The trap was empty and the snow was bloody, which meant one of three things.” I hope that this immediately makes readers want to read, at the very least, the next sentence.



TQWhat's next?

Tyrell:  I’m working on a book two, though I can’t make any promises that it’ll see the light of day.



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Tyrell:  Thanks so much for having me!





The Wolves of Winter
Scribner, January 2, 2018
Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages

Interview with Tyrell Johnson, author of The Wolves of Winter
A captivating tale of humanity pushed beyond its breaking point, of family and bonds of love forged when everything is lost, and of a heroic young woman who crosses a frozen landscape to find her destiny. This debut novel is written in a post-apocalyptic tradition that spans The Hunger Games and Station Eleven but blazes its own distinctive path.

Forget the old days. Forget summer. Forget warmth. Forget anything that doesn’t help you survive in the endless white wilderness beyond the edges of a fallen world.

Lynn McBride has learned much since society collapsed in the face of nuclear war and the relentless spread of disease. As the memories of her old life continue to haunt, she’s forced to forge ahead in the snow-drifted Canadian Yukon, learning how to hunt and trap and slaughter.

Shadows of the world before have found her tiny community—most prominently in the enigmatic figure of Jax, who brings with him dark secrets of the past and sets in motion a chain of events that will call Lynn to a role she never imagined.

Simultaneously a heartbreakingly sympathetic portrait of a young woman searching for the answer to who she is meant to be and a frightening vision of a merciless new world in which desperation rules, The Wolves of Winter is enveloping, propulsive, and poignant.





About Tyrell

Interview with Tyrell Johnson, author of The Wolves of Winter
© Josh Durias
Tyrell Johnson is a twenty-nine-year-old writer and editor who grew up in Bellingham, Washington. He received his MFA from the University of California, Riverside, where he studied fiction and poetry. An avid outdoorsman, he currently lives in Kelowna, British Columbia, northeast of Vancouver with his wife, two kids, and a Siberian husky. The Wolves of Winter is his first novel.



Website  ~  Twitter @tjohnso14  ~  Facebook

Interview with Matthew Sullivan, Author of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore


Please welcome Matthew Sullivan to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore was published on June 13th by Scribner.



Interview with Matthew Sullivan, Author of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore




TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Matthew:  I started writing in earnest in college in the 1990s, mainly because I loved to read. I grew up in a household of eight kids, and we were constantly telling stories and acting out characters that we’d made up, so storytelling has always been in my genes. My mom was a writer—she published some articles and stories and two novels for middle-grade readers—so there were always writing books around the house, and she and took me to my first writing conference when I was in 8th grade. Our storytelling genes definitely came from her.



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Matthew:  I’m definitely a hybrid. A lot of my writing comes from the discoveries I make along the way, so I feel like I always need to be open to whatever possibilities arise. At the same time, writing without a destination can create a lot of unfocused content, at least for me. I think a general path forward is good, as long as it is outweighed by a willingness to bail from that path.



TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Matthew:  My biggest challenge is finding the time to write, and then focusing when I find it. With a full-time job and kids and life, getting into the right headspace to write can be a real obstacle. It helps to carve out uninterrupted blocks of time, like going away alone for a few days with no goal except to create. I sometimes go camping alone with a laptop hooked up to a car battery.



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Matthew:  Books, books, books. I really fell for writing because of the relationship I felt with reading. Of course, the authors that do the influencing change all the time, and have for several decades now. Early on it was Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Robbins. Later it was Lorrie Moore and Flannery O’Connor and John Updike and Denis Johnson. The list goes on and on, which is part of the pleasure of reading.



TQDescribe Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore in 140 characters or less, like a tweet.

Matthew:  Bookseller Lydia, as a girl, was the sole survivor of a violent attack. Books are her sanctuary—and the way she solves a very old crime.

(I’ve never actually tweeted before… this is my first! Is a tweet still a tweet if it has never been sent?)



TQTell us something about Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore that is not found in the book description.

Matthew:  The opening chapter originally had Lydia chasing a book thief (Joey) through downtown Denver. That was cut during revisions. Also, in early drafts, David was more of a jerk.



TQWhat inspired you to write Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore? What appealed to you about writing a psychological mystery?

Matthew:  The biggest inspiration came from working for a number of years at Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver. The story unfolded entirely from that setting, or at least my imagination’s interpretation of that setting.

Psychological mysteries are appealing because they get to the heart of mystery fiction for me, which is the impact of crime on people.



TQWhat sort of research did you do for Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore?

Matthew:  The story is very loosely connected to an unsolved cold case that happened in Aurora, Colorado, when I was growing up (a family was murdered in the night by a man with a hammer, not far from my childhood home: The Hammer Man). But I intentionally didn’t research the crime until long after the book was finished. Instead, I focused on the emotions and fears I felt as a child in the wake of those murders and tried to capture that. I did seek some research on the history of Denver, mostly as a refresher, and some aspects of social work and family services to help me capture the character of the “BookFrog” named Joey.



TQPlease tell us about the cover for Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore.

Matthew:  The jacket was designed by Tyler Comrie, and I LOVE the work he did on it! For a book about books, it was important that the cover capture not just the image of books, but also the textures and the feel. The level of detail on the books is incredible, from the slight stains to the slightly threadbare corners. And the little colophons—I think that’s what they are called, those tiny etched images on the spine—even refer to themes or individual moments in the story. He somehow did all of that while making it both colorful and sinister. I am totally impressed.



TQIn Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Matthew:  The easiest character to write was Lydia, I think because she and I have so much in common (such as a love for books!). The hardest character to write was her boyfriend David because he’s so different from me.



TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore?

Matthew:  Even though this is a mystery, realism matters to me. It was important to capture real issues that real people face, such as children who have fallen through the cracks in the foster system, or the ripple effects of violent crime—even decades later.



TQWhich question about Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

MatthewWhat about the role of books in the book?

Funny you should ask. I was hoping to capture the way that books are so thoroughly connected to individual identity… we are the books we read. Books are an intrinsic part of the quest for truth in this mystery.



TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore.

Matthew:  

Libraries were havens for everyone… not just the clean and productive.

You leave yourself open to answers, he’d always taught her. You keep turning pages, you finish chapters, you find the next book. You seek and you seek and you seek, and no matter how tough things become, you never settle…



TQWhat's next?

Matthew:  I’m working on another literary mystery, this one about a woman who ends up living alone in a very strange small town in the Northwest. I’m excited about it.



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Matthew:  You are so welcome, Sally!







Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore
Scribner, June 13, 2017
Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages

Interview with Matthew Sullivan, Author of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore
Goodreads Debut Author of the Month and an Indie Next Pick!

“Sullivan’s debut is a page-turner featuring a heroine bookseller who solves a cold case with clues from books—what is not to love?” —Nina George, author of The Little French Bistro, and the New York Times bestselling The Little Paris Bookshop

When a bookshop patron commits suicide, his favorite store clerk must unravel the puzzle he left behind in this fiendishly clever debut novel from an award-winning short story writer.

Lydia Smith lives her life hiding in plain sight. A clerk at the Bright Ideas bookstore, she keeps a meticulously crafted existence among her beloved books, eccentric colleagues, and the BookFrogs—the lost and lonely regulars who spend every day marauding the store’s overwhelmed shelves.

But when Joey Molina, a young, beguiling BookFrog, kills himself in the bookstore’s upper room, Lydia’s life comes unglued. Always Joey’s favorite bookseller, Lydia has been bequeathed his meager worldly possessions. Trinkets and books; the detritus of a lonely, uncared for man. But when Lydia flips through his books she finds them defaced in ways both disturbing and inexplicable. They reveal the psyche of a young man on the verge of an emotional reckoning. And they seem to contain a hidden message. What did Joey know? And what does it have to do with Lydia?

As Lydia untangles the mystery of Joey’s suicide, she unearths a long buried memory from her own violent childhood. Details from that one bloody night begin to circle back. Her distant father returns to the fold, along with an obsessive local cop, and the Hammerman, a murderer who came into Lydia’s life long ago and, as she soon discovers, never completely left. Bedazzling, addictive, and wildly clever, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a heart-pounding mystery that perfectly captures the intellect and eccentricity of the bookstore milieu and will keep you guessing until the very last page.​





About Matthew

Interview with Matthew Sullivan, Author of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore
Photography by Lucid Concepts
Matthew Sullivan received his MFA from the University of Idaho and has been a resident writer at Yaddo, Centrum, and the Vermont Studio Center. His short stories have been awarded the Robert Olen Butler Fiction Prize and the Florida Review Editor’s Prize for Fiction and have been published in many journals, including The Chattahoochee Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Fugue, Evansville Review, and 580-Split. In addition to working for years at Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver and at Brookline Booksmith in Boston, he currently teaches writing, literature, and film at Big Bend Community College in the high desert of Washington State. The author of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, he is married to a librarian and has two children.

Website  ~  Facebook

Review: The Children's Home by Charles Lambert


The Children's Home
Author:  Charles Lambert
Publisher:  Scribner, January 5, 2016
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 224 pages
List Price:  US$24.00 (print); US$11.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781501117398 (print); 9781501117411 (eBook)

Review: The Children's Home by Charles Lambert
For fans of Shirley Jackson, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl, and Edward Gorey, a beguiling and disarming debut novel from an award-winning British author about a mysterious group of children who appear to a disfigured recluse and his country doctor—and the startling revelations their behavior evokes.

In a sprawling estate, willfully secluded, lives Morgan Fletcher, the disfigured heir to a fortune of mysterious origins. Morgan spends his days in quiet study, avoiding his reflection in mirrors and the lake at the end of his garden. One day, two children, Moira and David, appear. Morgan takes them in, giving them free reign of the mansion he shares with his housekeeper Engel. Then more children begin to show up.

Dr. Crane, the town physician and Morgan’s lone tether to the outside world, is as taken with the children as Morgan, and begins to spend more time in Morgan’s library. But the children behave strangely. They show a prescient understanding of Morgan’s past, and their bizarre discoveries in the mansion attics grow increasingly disturbing. Every day the children seem to disappear into the hidden rooms of the estate, and perhaps, into the hidden corners of Morgan’s mind.

The Children’s Home is a genre-defying, utterly bewitching masterwork, an inversion of modern fairy tales like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass, in which children visit faraway lands to accomplish elusive tasks. Lambert writes from the perspective of the visited, weaving elements of psychological suspense, Jamesian stream of consciousness, and neo-gothic horror, to reveal the inescapable effects of abandonment, isolation, and the grotesque—as well as the glimmers of goodness—buried deep within the soul.


Deb's Review

Dark fairy tale, neo-gothic horror, allegory, magical realism, psychological tale. The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert does not want to be neatly shoe-horned into any single genre. My eyebrow lifted at the comparisons to some of my favorite authors: Shirley Jackson, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl and Edward Gorey. Surely not, I thought. Really?

Morgan Fletcher is a man of considerable wealth. Raised in seclusion by an absentee father and an eccentric mother, he is facially disfigured in an incident as a young adult. Morgan doesn't know what to make of the world outside his garden wall, and is afraid it wouldn't have him anyway. After his parents pass on, he exists alone in a grand mansion with his barely seen servants until the arrival of Engel, a maid who is a gift from his sister Rebecca who runs the family business and hasn't seen her brother in years.

After Engel’s appearance, children begin to show up on their doorstep. First, an infant girl in a basket whom they name Moira, and then a five year old boy with a hand lettered tag around his wrist announcing him as David. Moira and David are the first of many children they take into the home and care for as their own. Their number and age range are never quite clear, but it seems there are more than a dozen, from infant to toddler to child. David is referred to as the eldest at one point, but these are not your average children. They are unusually smart, poised and well-behaved. Endearing them all to Morgan, not one of them is troubled by his ruined face.

A sudden round of illnesses among the children brings the local Dr. Crane for a few house calls. Engel convinces shy Morgan to show his face in front of the doctor, and the men become fast friends over backgammon and Morgan's vast library. Morgan, Engel, Crane and the children fall into an almost family-like rhythm for a short while until two agents from the Ministry of Welfare show up, accusing the household of harboring “stray” children. They deny the existence of any boarder orphans and are able to convince the agents to leave. If children appearing out of nowhere isn't odd enough, events begin to truly take a turn for the bizarre at this point.

The children come and go from the labyrinth of rooms, like ghosts disappearing into the woodwork. When they are not present at meals or in the library, it's almost as if they cease to exist. When they are present, they find some truly strange artifacts in the attic, insist that they be taught to read and write, and seem to be feverishly looking for something in the mountains of books in the library. The adults finally begin to wonder who these children are and what they want.

Overall, the story was entrancing. The layers of uncertainty are skillfully stacked, and the inability to guess much beyond the current paragraph made it hard to close the book at the end of the day. We are given clues about setting and time frame but little confirmation of anything, which adds to the off-balance feeling as the narrative unwinds. The children seem to have a specific purpose, but whatever it is, it is maddeningly unclear.

Written mostly from Morgan’s unworldly, almost childlike point of view, there are moments when you question if everything or anything you see is real. His multi-layered relationships with Engel, Crane and the children bring depth to a character that could have easily been just pitiable.

The comparisons to some of my favorite authors actually do ring true, especially with the Gorey-ish morbid child vibe. Lambert does a fine job with a dreamlike setting that teeters just on the edge of peril. Opinion on whether the ending delivers on the clever build-up will probably vary widely from person to person. It's a grim, thought-provoking tale, and a tidy ending wrapped up with a neat little organza bow would not have been fitting. Although I did not love the ending, I did adore the book as a whole and I'll be watching for more works from Lambert.

At 224 pages, The Children's Home is a compact read with a unique plot and interesting, well-drawn characters that will stay with me for some time. There's a smattering of descriptive gore, but it's not rampant. I would definitely recommend for fans of gothics and dark fairy tales, and any reader who can appreciate that whimsy is not always brightly colored; sometimes it manifests in dismal shades of gray.

Review: The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell JohnsonInterview with Tyrell Johnson, author of The Wolves of WinterInterview with Matthew Sullivan, Author of Midnight at the Bright Ideas BookstoreReview: The Children's Home by Charles Lambert

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