Tag Archives: sci-fi fiction

Alana Woods’ book reviews: THE LITTLE UNIVERSE by Jason Matthews

Have you ever wondered about The Big Bang? What it was, how it happened? Wonder no more. Instead, follow the characters in this huge-in-scope novel as they set about re-creating it. Do they succeed? Oh yes. And how. With the help of an infinitely talented and intelligent computer named Jim they build their own little universe within the confines of a purpose-built building and then proceed to tweak, play and interact with planetary inhabitants to suit their own purposes.

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Cover--Little Universe

The investors see only the mind-blowing profits that can be made from exploiting technology from more-advanced planets than their own, and they conflict with venture partners who want to observe and learn from one particular planet whose inhabitants are in tune with the entire universe.

This novel is an exploration of creation, the existence of a creator, spirituality, reincarnation and much much more. Matthews exhibits an expertly deft touch as he explores what are obviously to him important subjects. By novel’s end I found myself in a contemplative mood as I pondered the ideas he raised.

A lot of the story involves a voyeuristic slant as the protagonists watch what’s happening on the planets that interest them and my interest level dipped as this felt like surface-skimming. My interest lay in the meditation interactions with the Thetans and how the project changes the lives of the protagonists.

The story has a definite beginning and ending and about three quarters of the way in there’s a jolt that completely alters the reader’s perception of everything. That was clever and had me smiling.

This is the first in a two-book series, the second being JIM’S LIFE which I unknowingly read first last year. While it’s not imperative to read them in order I wish I had because, even though I loved JIM’S LIFE and gave it five stars, it would have been advantageous to have the background of THE LITTLE UNIVERSE to draw upon.

This is a well-written, well-told story with characters I felt I knew by the time I finished.


Read my interview with Jason Matthews

Alana Woods interviews Jason Matthews, author of THE LITTLE UNIVERSE

My guest this week needs no introduction, to the indie author community at least. He’s considered close to being a superstar by the many he has helped towards publishing with his self-help books. But he’s also a novelist with two huge-in-scope works of fiction to his credit.

Jason Matthews

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Alana: Jason Matthews, welcome, it’s a real pleasure to have you here today. Before we talk about your many activities and books could we find out a little about you. You live in California; have you always lived there?

Jason: Thank you, Alana, for the very kind reception. I was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Unfortunately my parents divorced when I was a baby, and my mother, sister and I moved around quite a bit. We also lived in Massachusetts and Ohio while spending summers with Dad in Colorado and Oregon. I returned to North Carolina for college and then moved permanently to California in 1991. I love this state.

Alana: You are also one of that rare breed, a full-time author who actually makes your living by writing—when did you reach that point?

Jason: I used to be a house painting contractor and just didn’t have the time or energy to follow through on a dream of writing my first novel. It took several years and probably never would have been written without taking substantial time off from painting. When I started selling my third book I broke free from painting and focused entirely on writing and marketing. The money wasn’t consistent and I used up all of my savings, but eventually things got better.

As you know it’s very difficult to earn a living on one or two books. I now have five titles selling as ebooks and paperbacks, but I also sell a video course, work as an author consultant and even do speaking engagements. It takes those other sources of income to pay the bills, and still there are times when it feels like just scraping by.

Alana: Well, let’s first talk about the publishing self-help books because they’re how many hundreds, if not thousands, of authors have first discovered you. There are three, I believe. What subjects do they address?

Jason: The titles are indicators of what they’re about.

HOW TO MAKE, MARKET AND SELL EBOOKS—ALL FOR FREE is an overview and training program for authors wanting to self-publish, and it specialises in using free methods when possible or recommending inexpensive alternatives, like with cover design for example.

Two important chapters within that book were about making blogs and websites, but there wasn’t enough time to go into thorough detail so I wrote HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN FREE WEBSITE: AND YOUR FREE BLOG TOO where those subjects could be properly covered, and also the book would appeal to people who were not authors.

Alana: And the third?

Jason: A very important chapter in that book was about SEO (search engine optimisation), but again the subject was so large it really needed its own book, so I also wrote GET ON GOOGLE FRONT PAGE.

Alana: You’re active on so many fronts. I know you have a Facebook group because that’s how I first found you over a year ago, and you also host a weekly Google+ hangout about publishing that you post to YouTube—would you tell us about those, but also all the other ways you’re active publishing-wise.

Jason: The Facebook group came about as an example from the self-publishing book. I give examples of doing things I recommend, so for Facebook I created a group page and a fan page. Three and a half years later the fan page is a total dud but the group page has over 1800 members.

Google Plus is super because it has such a dynamic platform with features like hangouts. What’s really nice is that I only use it for writing associates and not for friends or family. I do an Indie Authors show on Google Plus that becomes YouTube videos, and I’ve even had the pleasure of interviewing Alana Woods for an episode on essential writing tips, which was a great show that is still helping others.

Alana: A plug!   Thank you.

Jason: My pleasure.

Alana: What you’re describing here is building a platform, isn’t it.

Jason: Yes. I work to build an author platform consistently over time. My blogs are very important, and I post regularly. Also YouTube is fantastic. If I can think of something that will make a good video, I always try it. Forums for writers and readers are good too, but there’s only so much time so it’s primarily Goodreads. Lately I’ve been doing more speaking events, and it’s really exciting to work with a live audience.

Alana: What are the types of groups you speak to? Are they primarily writing based?

Jason: Primarily, yes. I’ve spoken and made presentations about the self-publishing experience at a few paid writing conferences, so hopefully that will continue to grow. The focus is usually an outline of what it takes to sell books and the things writers often do to become successful. I’ve also presented to smaller, less formal gatherings like book signings or release events. I’ve talked to classrooms at schools and presented at libraries, where an interesting mix of people show up. I’ve done many radio interviews and also consult individual authors who want help with projects.

Alana: Let’s talk about your novels now. I’m familiar with two, JIM’S LIFE and THE LITTLE UNIVERSE—I’ve read and reviewed both. They deal with such big issues I’m going to wimp out and ask you to tell us what they are.

Jason: THE LITTLE UNIVERSE began as a way to think about our place in the universe, other planets, other intelligent life and how we might all be evolving together. Obviously these are big subjects with profound, even unanswerable, questions. The book is really about creating a project that displays those things in a way we might be able to learn from it, and of course I’ve taken some liberties with what I believe we might find if we had a universe and all its mysteries at our fingertips.

Alana: It kept me interested! And JIM’S LIFE, which, I didn’t realise when I read it, is the sequel to THE LITTLE UNIVERSE—not that I think it’s necessary to read them in order. But I think JIM’S LIFE is my favourite of the two.

Jason: That’s great to hear, Alana, because many readers have told me the opposite, and I like them both for different reasons. JIM’S LIFE is about a teenage boy who suffers a life-changing accident. The trauma affects his brain function and vision in a way that gives him the ability to see the light fields with living things, like the auras and chakras of people. In time he learns to work with the light fields and becomes a healer, even considered a miracle healer. What complicates things is the accident he endured was a result of running from a crime. So he is on trial for a crime as the world realises his unique healing abilities, which brings the philosophical and spiritual nature of the story to the forefront.

Alana: You present such a conundrum for the reader to come to grips with! It’s terrific.

Jason: Thank you.

Alana: You also have other works to your credit. I’m unfamiliar with them so could you give us a rundown?

Jason: Presently I just have some short stories on Amazon, and I’ve written a screenplay called Minor Extremes that is collecting dust on my shelf. It’s about a young man’s effort to bring the sport of extreme skiing from obscurity to the limelight and the lengths he’ll go to make his dream a reality.

Alana: I hesitate to ask the next question because you sound as though it might be difficult to fit anything else in to your schedule, but I’m going to anyway. Are you working on another book or project? If you are can you tell us about it, or is it too early to be revealing ideas, themes and plot points?

Jason: Yes, it’s important to create new content, and I’ve made the mistake of only marketing existing titles for far too long. I’m working on the third novel of the series …

Alana: Sorry to interrupt but, GREAT. I can’t wait to see where you take things.

Jason: That’s perfectly okay … and I have a nice critique group reading along the way. That is so helpful for edits and suggestions, wish I did more with critique groups before! This story is about two girls, sisters with different mothers, who are born with a cellular mutation that enables them to have special abilities and powers. They are viewed by the world as the next stage for humankind. How they use their powers is up to them, and the conflicts arise from the public pressures, their own internal struggles and with each other.

Alana: These are all subjects you’re obviously intensely interested in. Would you tell us how that interest arose and how you continue to pursue them.

Jason: As a kid I was always fascinated by the universe and our own human evolution. How did we get to where we are and where might society be heading in the future? When one spends time contemplating these things, subjects like science, religion, spirituality, environment, relationships and more come into the picture. I think my novels touch on all of those subjects, hopefully in a fun way leaving room for interpretation and without coming across as one way of thinking or as preachy.

Alana: Definitely not preachy, but I have to say they opened up my mind to so much more than I’ve previously thought about. Jason, thank you so much. It’s been an absolute pleasure to find out more about the man as well as the author.

Jason: Thank you so much. What a pleasure it is getting to know and working with authors all over the world, like you, Alana

Take this link to my review of THE LITTLE UNIVERSE

Jason’s links
Amazon   |   Google+

Alana Woods’ book reviews: A HOOK IN THE SKY by Claude Nougat

This is another quality, albeit short, read from Nougat. Well-thought out plotline, character depth, polished prose. What more could you ask for.

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A hook in the sky


This book tackles the elemental story of aging. In common with YA fiction it looks into one of life’s transitions, this one the transition from work to retirement, from a life of busyness—if not usefulness—to one of what to do with oneself when one no longer has a primary purpose.

Nougat is in fact the initiator and driving force behind the next big thing in genres: baby boomer literature, be it fiction or non-fiction. A HOOK IN THE SKY is her first contribution. If the online airplay Nougat is receiving is any guide it’s generating massive interest.

The story follows a childless couple from the day of husband Robert’s—French—retirement from the UN. His wife Kay—American—is 20 years younger and a contemporary art gallery owner. They have nothing in common, a fact that comes very much to the fore once Robert’s no longer working. He rekindles his interest in painting. Locations shift from the US to Italy to France as Robert and Kay separate then come together again with a big art project, all the while Robert exploring what else life has to offer, namely other women.

What’s wrong with the book? Well, I prefer longer novels but that’s not a criticism. The plot and characters don’t suffer, they’re well developed.

My one criticism is that the story is told from Robert’s point of view except for several brief instances where it swaps to Kay’s. I didn’t like this. If you’re going to swap points of view, give the characters equal time. As it is it looks like the author has inadvertently veered or hasn’t figured out how to convey what Kay is thinking or feeling any other way. However, it’s a small criticism.

I enjoyed the read. I can see it having general appeal—not just to the BB age group—because it draws in so much.

I imagine Nougat used her own experience to build the character of Robert. She worked at the UN herself and is a painter. I loved the details about art and painting. In one particular scene Robert is choosing what paint colours to buy. I’m not going to tell you the wonderful descriptions Nougat gives them, you’re going to have to read the book yourself for that delight.

Take this link to an interview with CLAUDE NOUGAT


Alana Woods interviews Claude Nougat, author of A HOOK IN THE SKY

This week Claude Nougat joins me for a discussion about her latest book A HOOK IN THE SKY, the emerging new Boomer genre in literature, and art and painting. We’re also very lucky in that she has allowed me use two of her own paintings to illustrate her answer to one of my questions.

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Claude Nougat head only (light 1)

A hook in the sky

Alana: Claude, welcome. You live in Italy. Whereabouts? And how did that come about?

Claude: In Rome. It came about by chance. Some 35 years ago I met a wonderful Sicilian who happened to work here and we got married!

Alana: It sounds v-e-r-y romantic.   As does your use of the French pronunciation of the main character’s name in A HOOK IN THE SKY, Rob-air. So much sexier than the no-nonsense Robert. I still can’t think of him any other way. How much does his career in the UN and the fact that he’s an amateur artist resemble your own life?

Claude: I guess you could say it’s very autobiographical, but then all one’s writing draws on one’s life experience … I drew on my own work experience at the UN and I won’t deny that many of Robert’s reflections on his work are close to my own. Like him, I worked for 25 years in a UN agency, the Food and Agricultural Organization, based in Rome. I’ve had a similar career path: I started out as a project evaluation specialist working in the field and ended in the higher rungs of the organization, as a director responsible for Europe and Central Asia.

Alana: To say it must have been interesting is, I think, a gross understatement. Where did your years with the UN take you?

Claude: Like Robert I’ve often travelled to the Third World, mostly Africa, but I’ve also been to other fascinating places like Peru, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam. And just like him I’ve made sketches, taken photographs and later turned them into oil paintings.

Alana: Let’s talk about your painting. Have you taken it further than Robert, ie, turned professional and exhibited?

Claude: We’ve both turned professional (grin)! He’s had one exhibition in Paris sharing the gallery with Natasha who’s a talented photographer and also the woman he is having an affair with. That’s something I’ve never done!

I’ve participated in many group shows (13 at my latest count) in France except for a couple in Sicily, and had two personal shows, one in Paris, the other in Rome. That last one was big, over 60 paintings! However, since 2008 I haven’t had any more as I’ve concentrated on my writing.

Based on my own paintings I’ve uploaded on Picasa an album that pulls together paintings and photographs that Robert could have done but of course I did them.

Actually, as you know since you read the book, there are two paintings that play a pivotal role in A HOOK: the naked woman and the painting of two flood victims in Bangladesh, two young girls, looking forlorn with their feet in the water. Respectively called La femme objet and Bangladesh the flood victims 2005.

Alana: And I thank you for allowing me to use them to accompany and illustrate the interview.

Claude: Thanks for showing them! But no spoilers, I won’t say here why these paintings are important! Actually, Robert in his artistic career has gone much further than me. He’s left traditional figurative art behind and had one major art installation shown at the famous Turbine Hall of the Tate in London. Any artist would dream of that! I certainly will never be shown there.

Alana: Why not?

Claude: I’m not a conceptual artist! I’m not into art installations—except for the ones I’ve invented for my book. Maybe some day an art merchant will ask me to put together a pile of ladders reaching up to a hook and take it to the Tate …

Alana: Like the one on your book cover.

Claude: … but I’m pretty sure that won’t happen. The art world is closed, almost impossible to penetrate for most artists, as I try to show in the novel.

Alana: What was the impetus for A HOOK IN THE SKY? And what in particular did you want to explore in it?

Claude: Contemporary Art is obviously one of the many things explored in it, but it’s almost a side-show. It’s what the main characters, Robert and his wife, fight over. But the main point of the book is another. I wanted to explore what happens to someone who retires after having had a successful career whether at the UN or in business. You’re a big manager, you retire, then what will you do? Go back to work as a consultant? So many people do that. But Robert has a special talent, an innate ability to draw and paint. From childhood, because his mother was an artist, he had this dream of becoming a painter like her and it seems to him that now is the time to make that dream come true. But he hasn’t taken into account his wife’s taste for conceptual art. So he goes after his dream alone … with catastrophic results for their marriage!

Alana: Is your mother a painter too?

Claude: Okay, full confession: yes, she’s a painter, a surrealist after the Dali manner, same generation … but she’s still alive and thriving at 99!

Alana: Good for her. Shows what having a purpose and interest can do.

Claude: I might include her in another book because in this one the focus is on Robert’s marriage, not his mother. What interested me was to see what would happen after retirement to a couple whose marriage has become essentially a marriage of convenience. The fact that theirs is childless doesn’t help. For years Robert and Kay have worked at their own careers without much interaction between them. That happens to so many people … When Robert retires can the marriage be reset on a sounder basis? There is one young woman in particular that turns his head, she is very beautiful and he paints her in the nude, the painting you’ve used above. The resilience of a long-standing relationship when confronted with the transition to the last stage in life is definitely a major issue for boomers who are retiring. They come home, they stay home, but what kind of home is it?

Alana: Talking of boomers, you’re the initiator and driving force behind a new genre in writing: baby boomer. How did it come about?

Claude: It just arose from a statistical observation regarding the market, remember I’m an economist by training! Boomers are hitting retirement age and the numbers are huge: 78 million in the US alone and retiring at the rate of 3.5 million a year. The youngest boomer is 49, the oldest is 67, and it’s clear they’ll want to read about issues that concern them and will need to identify with characters that are like them. Hence, the birth of boomer literature!

My book features a quintessential boomer. Robert is 60 when he retires, full of energy and ready to do much more with his life! So I thought I’d seek other authors who might have written boomer novels.

Alana: How did you go about doing that?

Claude: I opted for two strategies: one, set up a thread in the Kindle fora for authors to list their boomer novels … here’s the link … If you’re a BB novelist go list your book there and if you’re looking for a BB novel to read, that’s the place to go! It’s important because at present the BB genre is not recognized by Amazon. I set up the thread in September 2012. After a slow beginning it started to fill and now it’s filling fast!

Then in October I started a group on Goodreads to discuss Baby Boomer novels … here’s the link … At first, like the thread to list BB titles in the Kindle fora, it was very slow and I thought I had maybe made a mistake, that I had misread the market. Then, suddenly, starting in November, things began to pick up speed.

Alana: How far has it progressed? Has it surprised you?

Claude: The Goodreads group grew even faster than the Kindle thread and I have to confess I was astounded! It’s as if boomer lit had been there all along, just waiting to be named to come out in the open!

Now, as I talk to you, the group has 184 members but every day new members are added and new boomer titles are uploaded on the group’s bookshelf, so far 54 books.

Check them out to pick your next good read, the quality is remarkable and the variety is fascinating, from comedy to serious fiction, thrillers, memoirs, even guidebooks, poetry and short stories!

Alana: Are any of the authors known?

Claude: Many of the books are from NYT (New York Times) bestselling authors, and at least one that I know of was a runner up to the Man Booker Prize (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce).

And, of course, you have the classic examples of boomer lit with Louis Begley’s About Schmidt series and Deborah Moggach’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, both of which inspired memorable films with great actors. I would urge interested readers and writers to join the group. It’s a very friendly atmosphere and we’re reading one book a month democratically selected through a poll.

Alana: What about your other published works? Would you give us a rundown?

Claude: I think you’re going to be surprised. My other published works are not boomer lit at all but New Adult! I’ve written a series (three books so far) entitled THE PHOENIX HERITAGE …  here’s the link to the first book  LUNAR RISING … It’s the story of a young American born a gifted child and who’s become a computer whiz. He goes looking for his family roots in Sicily, the homeland of his father who died when he was still a kid. He chances into an abandoned palazzo and meets the ghosts of all his ancestors going back 900 years. The series mixes history with a coming of age story. By the third book he takes his life in hand and makes a fortune online, attracting the unwanted attention of both the Sicilian and Russian mafia! Bottom line, it’s a hard-to-classify series: it starts off as a YA paranormal/historical and ends as an NA techno-thriller!

I’ve also published a collection of contemporary short stories  DEATH ON FACEBOOK

Alana: I read DEATH a while back and reviewed it. Thoroughly enjoyed the stories.

Claude: Thank you. For more information about all my books take this link to my Amazon author page.

Alana: Is there anything else you’re working on?

Claude: Sure, a lot! At present I’m working on a serial or series of novellas, tentatively called The OnePercent Saga, set two hundred years from now in a future characterized by a profound division between the very rich who are the only ones to enjoy the amenities of technological advances while everyone else is left out. The first novella is called I WILL NOT LEAVE YOU BEHIND and I expect to publish it this summer, as soon as a couple more episodes in the series are written.

I’d also like to get into some non-fiction themes, mainly social issues like those I explore on my blog and the history of one of my ancestors, Liewin Bauwens, who was Napoleon’s favourite entrepreneur because he stole the spinning jenny from the English! He started the modern textile industry on the continent—much to the dismay of the British who tried him in absentia and condemned him to be hanged. Of course, he never returned to England.

So, as you can see, my plate is full!

Alana: I can see another interview just to explore that! But for now I’ve kept you long enough. Claude, thanks so much.

Claude: Thank you, Alana! I really appreciate the thoughtful questions and your excellent review of my book! You gave me a chance to explain my novel and what I’m doing, I’m very grateful for that. Book discovery is hugely helped along by the selfless work of dedicated readers like you who are also talented, professional writers. It’s people like you who can find the gem in the slush pile!

Alana: Any response to such praise is going to look decidedly disingenuous, so I’ll resist.

Take this link to my review of Claude’s  A HOOK IN THE SKY
ake this link to my review of Claude’s GATEWAY TO FOREVER

Claude’s Amazon.com page   |   Claude’s Amazon.co.uk page
Claude’s blog