THE FRAMED WOMEN OF ARDEMORE HOUSE by Brandy Schillace is all aces in TFF’s book, and this preview review aims to uncover some of what makes this engaging mystery so damn good, without lifting the veil too much.
This story is one of the more perplexing murder mysteries you may come across, combining new, thrilling elements with style!
Not only are the brilliant and extremely engaging facets to this case enveloping, but solving a murder by antique pistol, as well as the mysterious disappearance of a rare Ardemore family portrait that may be connected, prove to be difficult entanglements that unwind in wholly unexpected ways and leaves the reader feverishly turning pages to follow the threads.
The following Preview Book Review of THE FRAMED WOMEN OF ARDEMORE HOUSE by Brandy Schillace is SPOILER-FREE.
Schillace’s characters, from the outsider-protagonist Jo Jones, to the Detective Inspector MacAdams with his inferiority complex due to his divorce, to Gwilym the young antique and hobby collector, and to the brazen Irish innkeeper and fellow outsider, Tula, they all stand up with great intrigue and pack a punch.
To ramble a little, characters are the lifeblood of fiction, with few memorable exceptions.
The one I come back to frequently is the Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov, because it simultaneously thwarts the rules by creating a compelling and innovative pillar of science-fiction without (I argue, though some disagree) characters being central to the story told over the course of centuries.
I appreciate Foundation for that, but my favorite work of Asimov is and will always be THE END OF ETERNITY.
Aside from being used for near every time travel tale post-H.G. Wells, THE END OF ETERNITY has memorable and incredibly realistic characters that you root for.
They make you love the story.
Just as each character in THE FRAMED WOMEN OF ARDEMORE HOUSE stands out in their own ways and brings you on a wholly uncharted journey to a murder / painting mystery, this too is a story to love.
The young American woman, Jo, inherits an old estate with a decrepit English manor house that holds her in uncomfortable territory.
She finds hidden in a locked room what appears to be an Ardemore family portrait of an unknown relative that was taken from the library for some reason.
Shortly thereafter, it is stolen.
And then a body turns up.
The neurodivergent Jo felt like an outsider before she becomes a suspect in the murder, and that feeling only grows as she attempts to solve the crimes and find out who was the Ardemore mystery woman.
The witty, charming, and intelligent character of Jo is thirsty for answers.
And despite her difficulty overcoming a not-too-distant divorce with a husband that continually reminded her of her autism and her behavioral faux pas – some of which she deems may be fair and some of which are certainly not – she collects herself time and again and proves to be insightful, well-read, and courageous as she presses on.
The insight into the way this character thinks is exciting, and makes me feel like I am privy to a behind the scenes look into the methods of Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes that is essential to their effectiveness in solving a crime.
Schillace’s Jo Jones is flawed and extremely realistic.
The ways in which Jo reflects on how she thinks – especially using memories of her experiences to guide her – makes for a refreshing new perspective into someone who is on the spectrum and not just surviving society, but thriving despite it.
In a touching moment, the Irish innkeeper speaks of leaving her home and landing in England as an outsider, like Jo, and then the younger woman reveals a fun and difficult attribute:
“Words have just always been my people…and I don’t forget them after I read them.
“Ever? Like a photographic memory?” Tula asked. Jo scrunched up her nose. She’d never liked the term.
“It doesn’t work like that. I can recite from most of the books I’ve read–but it has to be triggered…sometimes the connections I see aren’t really there…but sometimes it means I see connections other people can’t see.”
The marked self-reflection makes the reader empathize with Jo in a deeply impactful way.
Despite the social difficulties of inter-personal relationships and reactions to situations, social norms, and speech that are often a struggle for Jo Jones, she proves to be an exceptional force in the book and a very relatable person of interest.
THE FRAMED WOMEN OF ARDEMORE HOUSE by Brandy Schillace is out tomorrow – February 13, 2024 – so get your copy post-haste!
Short Fiction Serialized Chapbooks By R.J. Huneke Are Here, and they look gooooood, Fictioneers!
If you are a fan of fiction, TFF is a magazine dedicated to celebrating the art, and subscribers to our Patreon get some insane exclusives, including a new work by author R.J. Huneke, which will at the least become a future novella.
I have serialized my story so that the first three chapters are offered up – my rough draft, though edited and polished a bit, is written longhand and then transcribed.
These are all signed and numbered limited edition chapbooks.
Only the TFF Patreons and a few family members are getting these extremely limited chapbooks featuring a thrilling work of dark fantasy for all ages as I write it.
When it’s all done, perhaps it will make up a new novel to be sent off to a publisher. Maybe I will keep it on its MI6FOR YOUR EYES ONLY designation, or Top Secret as Americans like to say.
Either way, I have a professional Epson printer that I have used to make professional archival safe lithographs, and I just found a bunch of really nice heavyweight paper with which I am printing these oversized chapbooks, so that readers have a really nice reading experience in the hand, the way many old books used to be made hundreds of years ago.
No, it is not letterpress.
Believe me, I would love that, but the difficulty in designing, laying out, and figuring out a good offset printing process is more than enough for me to handle for now.
In the future, when I have used all of my existing paper I may outsource this.
But for now, you have a piece of art I created every aspect of, except the cover art which is a gorgeous work that I found from an anonymous artist at Prettysleepy Art, and it fit the story too well to not use.
I started the TFF Patreon to ensure that I can NOT use Amazon or Google ads and instead I rely solely on Bookshop.org affiliate monies (may never happen, but I put links up) and the Patreon.
Doing this allows me to pay other writers to write book reviews for The Forgotten Fiction, and to get supplies for things related to the work at the zine – like the archival paper stock I have used in the chapbooks here.
I hope you all love the story I am writing – if you are a fan of SFF fiction then you are in for a treat!
Best Books of 2023: the TFF To-Read Guide kicks off an inaugural tradition of Winter Solstice book review wonderment and reading highlights to recap some of the incredibly fun works of fiction we have reviewed this year, and also to mention many bright authors we found this year, in 2023, whose light has further emblazoned fiction, even if we have not yet written a review of their books.
Who does not love a ‘Best Of’ list, especially for books?
TFF To-Read Guide Winter Solstice 2023! All Hail the Holly King!
The following will lean on The Forgotten Fiction’s many deserved book reviews from the past year, and are entirely subjective, being put forward by TFF’s managing editor, namely me.
This will be as unconventional and engaging a series of lists as can be arranged.
At TFF we review newly released books and also books that have been released in years prior to 2023, so our ‘best of list’ contains what we found and loved this year, not necessarily what was published this year.
To be honored by the fiction gods in any year is a reason to rejoice!
So place your heads on the Green Knight’s proverbial chopping block, if you will, and prepare to sacrifice a drop of blood – Ow* that hurt! – to his neck-nicking axe in celebration of fictitious truth, as Sir Gaiwan did.
First, I want no feelings hurt if your books do not make a list here: if you write or read fiction, you are awesome and are to be commended, thank you, beautiful people, because your promotion of the art helps makes the world a bit brighter.
Without further ado, here are the year’s best-of lists from TFF:
Author Ray Bradbury and his wife Maggie at their home in Cheviot Hills, Los Angeles
The Ray Bradbury Award Winner For Best Speculative Fiction Likely To Blow The Doors Off Your Mind Palace goes to…Alix E. Harrow for the novel The Ten Thousand Doors of January.
This book is extraordinary in every sense of the word.
The prose is vivid, the story poignant and oh so moving, and the characters invoke tears of joy and loss that leaves you reeling.
Coincidentally, The Ten Thousand Doors of January also wins the 1984: You Made Me Cry…Twice Award, and that does not often happen to me (Orwell always gets me though, which is why I do not reread 1984 every year).
The Red Death Award For A Work Most Likely To Keep You Too Terrified To Sleep Award goes to…Philip Fracassi for his novel Boys In The Valley.
The blast of the winter storm in this book will chill your bones!
But do not fret, because the amount of blood spilled in the turn-of-the-century Catholic orphanage is more than enough to warm your hands.
The writing is top-notch, the story is one for the ages, and the events that unfold within the tale bring up just enough flashbacks to The Exorcist that you will hide under your covers shaking.
The Michael Crichton You Better Check Your Technology At The Door Sci-fi Award goes to…Blake Crouch for Upgrade.
This is phenomenal science fiction, and the evolution of DNA manipulation and self-imposed bio-hacking makes for new frontiers in this one.
The pace is furiously fast, thrilling, and thrash-metal-like in its loud challenges to many aspects of society and civilization in a fun new way that builds on Huxley’s Brave New World.
The Da Vinci Ornithopter Award For Best Small Press Publication goes to…Earthling Publications for their incredible signed limited edition of INSPECTION by Josh Malerman.
This is a book that is so awe-inspiring you fear to open it, because it may melt off your face a la the Ark of the Covenant.
There is no title on the cover, no author name, no letters of any kind.
The sleek, stark red leather sets a mood and the eye is drawn in to where a line of children stand, black silhouettes stamped into the cover, awaiting their inspections.
This coming-of-age genre bender from Malerman is a powerful and moving work that examines humanity at its core.
And as Inspection is a work of art, so too is this jaw-dropping edition from Paul Miller of Earthling, and I am deeply grateful to have gotten my dragon-hoarding claws on one.
The Kurt Vonnegut Satiric Stylin’ Society Needs Kilgore Trout To Give It An Enema Award goes to…Chuck Palahniuk for his novel Not Forever, But For Now.
The joeys that survive this tale will not ever want to come out of their kangaroo mums’ pouches again.
This brilliant work of fiction pushes boundaries well beyond their breaking points.
The ability to make readers despise a main character, abhor them, and then become not only invested, but rooting for that protagonist-antagonist (who the hell knows which it is), despite the epic fallout they may bring about is truly remarkable.
This also takes home the Award For Best Use Of A Hearing Aid In A Work Invoking An Outstanding British Dialect and the Harpo Marx Laugh Until You Snot Comedy In Prose Award.
Last, but not least is the Inklings Award For Best Fantasy In Fiction …goes to Kat Howard for the novel A Sleight Of Shadows.
Kat Howard’s writing is pure magic.
A Sleight Of Shadows is the second book in Kat Howard’s The Unseen World duology, following up the Edgar-award winning An Unkindness of Magicians.
Rarely do so many characters come off the pages with such a presence.
The world is very much rooted in our own, but the magic of these magicians and the immersive imagining of New York City in the Unseen World they inhabit is so alive, so unexpected, and so much more then it lets on.
When the bone trees sprout up near Central Park’s solitary island moaning with the voices of dead magicians long gone, readers are brought over the threshold into something new and wonderful.
Here dear readers is the list of TFF Best Books of 2023:
The Ray Bradbury Award Winner For Best Speculative Fiction Likely To Blow The Doors Off Your Mind Palace
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch forges great sci-fi, as a 21st century high point of transformative art continues the tradition of science miracles having a very good and very bad fallout.
Dark Matter provides a visceral thrill ride empowered by science the way Michael Crichton’s work has for decades.
I do not throw around the name of Crichton often, because no one is quite like the late author, the scientist-teacher-turned novelist.
But Crouch in his own brilliant way reminds me of him.
The Following Book Review of Dark Matter by Blake Crouch is Spoiler-Free.
“Are you happy with your life?”
Those are the last words Jason hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious, and he wakes in another world, another reality, exactly like his own except for where he made a fundamentally different life choice that drastically altered his life and those of his loved ones.
Would the science he had given up come to change the course of time?
These are not spoilers.
This is just how you get thrown into a story that is every bit as much an intimate lovers’ voyage, as it is a spine-rattling suspense thriller.
Genres are, like rules, made to be smashed, chopped up and baked into a wholesome and delicious culinary innovation.
And so too does the vision of Crouch cook up the best parts of sci-fi, thriller, fantasy, a sprinkling of horror, and a love story into a unique and infamous warning of what tampering with alternate timelines might be like for those equipped with dark matter in the near (or far) future.
I love this book.
It evokes many of the best traits from what I consider to be the pinnacle of time travel fiction, Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity.
Most if not all of the time travel medium, in films, video games, comic books, and novels lift ideas and tropes from Asimov, but Dark Matter takes it all a lot further and also gets very specific with the fringe science theories and experiments with time and matter.
At the heart is a man who loves his wife, Daniela, has his reality and their life together taken from him, and must work with a future science he never invented to try and right the wrongs.
“Last night, I set out to answer a simple question: Where is Daniela . . . This is not my world. Even as those five words cross my mind, I’m not exactly certain what they mean, or how to begin to consider their full weight.” [DARK MATTER, pg. 118, B. Crouch]
Dark Matter continues to blow my mind after each read.
To give this extraordinary book the treatment it deserves, Suntup Editions strove to encompass this classic with a gorgeous signed-numbered limited edition.
The spine is goatskin and feels so soft and smooth.
And since the story deals with alternate realities, what better way to show that than to have three different bradel-bound numbered versions, purple, green, and blue, and then randomly send them to the 350 owners upon release.
They are all great to hold, with a brilliant sheen to the thick cloth covers and the minimalism evokes less is more.
I wanted and was thrilled to get the purple cover.
Unique to the edition is an introduction by another favorite author and one of the most innovative voices of 21st century sci-fi Andy Weir, and he, crouch, and artist Clarcq each signed the book.
All of these Suntup editions are so well made and fit Dark Matter’s story so well!
Suntup made a limited artist edition and a lettered edition as well, and the art that Hilary Clarcq brought makes this tale come alive in an exciting way.
NOT FOREVER, BUT FOR NOW by Chuck Palahniuk: a dark reality that calls on readers to look inward and outward, to scrutinize our contemporary world, and to act if we want to change things for the good or the very worst of living creatures, especially the joeys.
Please be sure of nothing except that Chuck Palahniuk’s newest novel does not directly call on readers to do anything.
That is merely one interpretation that I had for NOT FOREVER, BUT FOR NOW; our world is not displayed in blacks and whites but shades of grays and stark colors, as does the grim earth that NOT FOREVER, BUT FOR NOW is set in.
So, whether you feel you are being called upon to assist in the exposing of the Empire, or to save struggling joeys from the perilous fur of a mama kangaroo, or you wish to preserve the Empire, at any cost, including spitting in a dropped joey’s eye, or you feel you ought merely to reflect upon the story and its wily metaphors is entirely up to you, Fictioneers.
This is why metaphors are such powerful vessels for great themes, morals, expressed traumas, and impactful events.
The following book review of NOT FOREVER, BUT FOR NOW is *Spoiler-Free.
This classic tale is darker than FIGHT CLUB and INVISIBLE MONSTERS and is every bit as enjoyable.
Psychopaths have never been so fun or redeeming!
The help begin to suspect the enormous Welsh home that brothers Cecil and Otto live in, fornicate in, and murder the help in is cursed, as the number of nannies, drivers, and butlers’ bodies pile higher and higher over the years of the brothers’ youth.
In fact, the family business, from Mummy, to Daddy, to Grandfather, is that of professional killers responsible for the most infamous murders and alleged ‘suicides’ in history.
NOT FOREVER, BUT FOR NOW will have you choked up, whether you feel for tragic characters in the tale, or are reading while eating (Blood RWE Level = .07-Choking Hazard).
This book displays a mastery of language throughout, especially the thick Welsh accents and the Sir Richard Attenborough impersonations (not to be confused with David Attenborough, folks). Readers can look forward to every sentence in this book being of impact, as a carefully thought out and expertly voiced style makes for a truly unique use of language.
NOT FOREVER, BUT FOR NOW is a genre bender and hits on hilarious satire, horror that makes one wince, killer thriller events, and literary style.
I love all of Chuck Palahniuk’s books but NOT FOREVER, BUT FOR NOW is a new favorite for me, right alongside INVISIBLE MONSTERS and FIGHT CLUB.
I rated NOT FOREVER, BUT FOR NOW 5/5 Stars on Goodreads here.
And finally here is Chuck Palahniuk describing how NOT FOREVER, BUT FOR NOW came about:
This book arose quite literally from the ashes of the amazing Shirley Jackson. Picture two siblings isolated in a colossal country manor. Dark secrets. Frightened villagers spreading rumors galore. Twenty years ago, Jackson’s daughter sent me her mother’s cremated remains, and this book came about. Not Forever, But for Now could be the bastard half-brother of We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Look for a landslide of dread broken only by laughter and occasional heartbreak. More people get buried alive than A. E. Poe ever dared entomb. More Frankenstein monsters menace more villagers than Mary Shelley dared put on the page.
Cecil and Otto, the two young brothers in Not Forever, live a Henry James life. Their crenellated manse and pony carts and lemon syllabub depend on the two small boys going forth to do the dirty deeds that keep the Empire alive. But will they? How many footmen and nannies and movie stars must they kill to ensure the privileged luxury of the few? Amble through stoney lunatic asylums. Go big game hunting in London’s Hyde Park. I cordially invite you for romantic strolls with escaped homicidal maniacs. You’ll find the magic dust of Shirley Jackson’s ashes sprinkled on every page.