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Review: ‘Underneath’ by Michael Cargill

Genre: Crime
Length: 190 pages

[Warning – This book contains swearing. If you are uncomfortable with that, I would suggest not reading it. However, I would stress that I thought it fit well within the story and wasn’t overbearing.]

I have awarded this 5 story stars.

Summary: Underneath tells the story of Hugh, a disturbed man who loved squirrels and garlic, and hates people, who he refers to as slugs. Having tried to be a team player and interact with other people, in both his work and personal life, and feeling nothing but disgust and blinding anger, he eventually stopped bothering.

Review: Underneath asks the question ‘How well do you actually know the people closest to you?’ in the most striking way. Hugh, the main character, appears perfectly normal on the outside, even charming at times. However, underneath, he is clearly a raving lunatic! It just goes to show that looks and first impressions can be deceiving. Written from two points of view, we hear from Hugh, who is losing his temper in various locations such as a supermarket, and Claire and Robert, two police officers who are cleaning up the mess.

I thought this was really well written. From the very beginning, I hated Hugh. Everything about him just made my skin crawl! I was greatly impressed by how well the author managed to ‘get into the characters head’, for lack of a better way of phrasing it, and the descriptions of Hugh’s thoughts and actions portrayed that. At times the story felt a bit repetitive, but I felt that this emphasised how all over the place Hugh’s mind was, that he couldn’t remember if he had done something so he did it again to be sure. A very clever effect! While it took a few chapters for any ‘action’ to be seen, it was in no way boring and still kept me engaged with the story.

While there was a lot of tension, particularly regarding when Hugh’s mood would change, and what he would do as he seemed quite unpredictable, there were also elements of humour. I loved Robert, the police officer, who was constantly either eating or thinking about eating which definitely made me smile each time! Also, the interactions between him and his co-worker, Claire, were great.

★★★★★ – Well written and an interesting view into the mind of the disturbed main character. Tense, with elements of humour. An interesting read!

Where to buy:
Amazon UK (Kindle)
Amazon UK (Paperback)
Amazon US (Kindle)
Amazon UK (Paperback)

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Review: ‘Saying Goodbye to Warsaw’ by Michael Cargill

Genre: Historical.
Length: 162 pages.

I have awarded this book 4 stars.

[Warning: this review contains spoilers. To view these spoilers, please see the bottom of the review, and highlight the white area]

Summary: Saying Goodbye to Warsaw tells the story of 10 year old Abigail Nussbaum, a little girl who loves children and being creative. Having lost her father, she now lives with her brother, Leo, aged 17, and their mother, Chana. Life is not easy for Abigail and her family; they are living in the year 1940, in Poland, and they are Jewish.

Review: Having studied this period, I knew that the outcome of this story would be bleak. What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was for something as simple as words on a page to transport me into the life of Abigail Nussbaum and her family and make the story come alive. The author really captured the desperation of the people living in the ghetto, and the fear, along with the feeling of helplessness that caused a lot of people to stand by why this tragedy was taking place.

Written in an engaging way, this book was impossible to put down. I felt myself smiling along with Abigail one minute, and my eyes filling with tears the next. These characters are not special, they are just doing everything they can to survive. While nothing really happens for a lot of the book, I feel that this just further emphasised the helplessness that they were experiencing; they had no control over being in the ghetto, so they had to make do the best that they can.

Beautifully written, with loveable characters and believable events, I am sad that it is over. Seeing the lovely and naive way that Abigail views the world be completely shattered was heartbreaking. Not just because of the storyline, but because of how beautifully crafted the character of Abigail was. I had an issue with one of the events towards the end (see below), but I feel that the author included this purely to show the desperation of the characters.

Unfortunately, I felt that the ending let the book down (see below), which is why I have given 4 stars rather than 5. I believe that I understand why the author finished the book in this way, but it just didn’t work for me. I would still highly recommend this book though.

★★★★ – beautiful written, loveable characters and believable events. The author really brings the events to life. Very highly recommend!

Where to buy:
Amazon UK (Kindle)
Amazon US (Kindle)
Amazon UK (Paperback)
Amazon US (Paperback)

Spoilers (Please highlight) –
1) ‘issue with one of the events’ – Abigail is taught to use a gun, and has mastered shooting after 3 shots. She is then able to shoot and kill. I can see that the author did this to emphasise the desperation of the characters and that everyone must fight to survive, but I had a hard time believing it, as Abigail is only 10 years old. Having said that, I did feel that it worked within the story.
2) ‘ending let the book down’ – The book ends with Leo and Abigail dead and finally with their dead parents too, in Heaven. While I think it was nice that they were all reunited and out of the ghetto, I also felt that it detracted from the pain and suffering in the rest of the story. Obviously, the story is based on real events, and I felt that the ending sort of forced a happy ending in a terrible situation.

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Getting to know: Michael Cargill

Hi Michael.cargillphoto

Right, so we’ve done the serious interview, it’s now time for the silly questions!

So, What were you like at school?
Piss ant annoying would be my guess. I had the odd detention for not doing my homework, played crap football in the playground, and flicked elastic bands at other people’s heads. I often thought about setting fire to my classroom but I was too chicken to even buy the matches.

I made it through primary and secondary school without any detentions! Only because I never got caught, though…
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Lazy and bald?

What is the last book you read?
I had to check on my Kindle for this question but it was a non-fiction book called ‘March Women, March’ which was a very interesting read about the history of the Suffragettes. It was also quite depressing and the next time someone reminisces about the good old days, I can tell them with full confidence that they’re full of shit.

Suffragettes? Not exactly bedtime reading!
How lucky are you and why?
I once won £33 on the National Lottery after four of my numbers came up. I spent the dough on a fry-up lunch and CDs. This year I bought five tickets for the office Grand National sweepstake and got second and third place. I spent the winnings on McDonalds and socks.

If you had to sing a song on a talent show, what would it be and why?
Doop by Doop as it only has a solitary lyric: Doop.

(Link to song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvLDm8821jQ)

If there was a movie produced about your life, who would play you and why?
Bruce Wayne, because no matter what happens no-one will ever complain because I’m the motherfunking Batman.

Batman is pretty cool! Right. There’s a zombie apocalypse, and you can only use the item to your left to survive. How long would you live?
With a USB headset? Forever, because I’d pretend to be a DJ and them lumbering, lurching beasts are natural ravers.

I’d love to see raving zombies!!
If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?

I’d be Batman and my special superpower would be Batman. ‘Cos Batman is the motherfunking Batman.

If you only had 6 months left to live, what would you do?
Sit on the toilet and finish Candy Crush.

Such an addictive game!
Finally, If you could pick two celebrities to be your parents, who would they be and why?

Stephen Hawking and Helen Keller because I could lie about everything and do whatever I want… just like Batman.

Thanks, Michael!

Please click here for a link to the serious interview, with more information about Michael’s books.

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Author interview: Michael Cargill

Hi Michael!cargillphoto

Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. Before we begin would you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m 35, my day job is in IT, and I live in the sunny green hills of Surrey. Although people say I look like a football hooligan this skinhead is just for show – it’s handy for deterring old people from asking me for directions but drunk homeless people ask me for money just as much as they ever did.

Great! Let’s get started!
First question. What inspired you to start writing?

In all honesty… I don’t really know. I’ve been working in offices for donkey’s years and there’s a large element of boredom that goes hand in hand with the usual 9-5 routine. Once I figured out how to use email an entire new method of skiving opened up; it wasn’t unusual for me to grab a few minutes here and there and send stupid emails out to colleagues. These emails were (usually) gratefully received so I just carried on doing it. One day a seed was planted in my head when someone said that I should write a book… so I did!

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
As much as I enjoy writing, the thought of actually sitting down and tapping away at the keyboard can feel like a chore. It’s kind of like going to the gym: when you walk in and start getting changed you can’t help but wonder why you’re putting yourself through such pain, yet when you’re finished and showered you feel great and wonder why you ever doubted yourself.

I’ve never heard writing compared to going to the gym before! Interesting!!
Where do you start when writing a new story. Main text? Title? Start? Ending?

Once I’ve got an idea I just plough right on in at the start and work my way through to its conclusion. I don’t bother with plans, notes, methods, or outlines, I just make it all up as I go. This is partly because I’m lazy but mostly because it’s the most enjoyable way of doing it. A lot of the time I don’t know what’s going to happen in my stories until the words have appeared on the page.

Do you have any regrets, or things you wish you’d done differently?
I wouldn’t say I have any regrets but if I could send some advice back to my younger self it would be that you really, really can’t self-edit stuff. Beta/proof readers are invaluable!

Do you have any advice for other writers?
For new writers? Plenty! Don’t worry about writing a story right off the bat. If you’re not cringing at your own work when going back through it then something is wrong. Even professional authors will have legions of proof readers, copy writers, and editors going over and over their work multiple times before it’s ready to be published.

Are there any books or authors that you feel have particularly influenced you?
Stephen King. He’s been my favourite author since I first discovered him at a church book stall I was helping out with when I was a wee boy scout. It’s hard to say how much he’s influenced me but I’d be very surprised if him and his beard aren’t lurking in amongst my work somewhere.

Your books are very historically accurate. How much research do you do?
Depends what it’s for. I’m a WWII nut so most of my research for stories set during that time has already been done. For Saying Goodbye to Warsaw, set in the Warsaw Ghetto, I had to do some more specific research on the Holocaust because it wasn’t something I was comfortable trying to guess my way through. I read quite a lot of non-fiction anyway these days so sometimes I’ll be doing research for future stories without even knowing it. Reading up on social history has been fascinating and has given me extra foundation for the personalities of my characters.

Have you ever experienced writers block, and how did you get passed it?
No but I’ve only been doing this writing malarkey for three-ish years. I get moments where I struggle with what’s going to happen next but that’s part and parcel of making things up on the spot.

Do you feel that you are like a particular character in your stories? If so, why?
There’s probably a bit of me in all my characters to be honest. Part of my ‘job’ is to get into a character’s head so I can justify and explain their actions and their motives to readers; I have to be able to figure out the logic behind their thoughts. One of my earlier works had a dangerous sociopath as a main character and quite often I found myself thinking “You know what…? He’s right about this, I’d probably do the same thing as well.”

If you don’t mind me asking, what are you currently working on?
I can’t tell you, it’s a secret.

Pleaseeee?
My next release is actually finished but I’ve put it on hold for a few months before I go back and do the editing. I had intended this to be a break but I’ve actually written two short stories and have started work on what is my first ever foray into the fantasy genre. ‘tis fun.

and finally, Is there anything you would like to say to your readers, or just in general?
All my books have my email address, Twitter handle, and Facebook page – so feel free to get in touch with any comments you have about my work! It’s always nice to hear from people who have read the nonsense that I commit to paper/e-ink so don’t be shy! In fact, if you don’t like my work then get in touch and I’ll give you a refund…

I can’t imagine anyone not liking your work! It’s very well written and historically accurate!

Thanks again for agreeing to be interviewed, Michael! It’s been great.

To learn more about the great Michael Cargill, please visit:
His Blog
His Facebook
Latest book: ‘Saying Goodbye to Warsaw’ – Amazon UK (Kindle), Amazon US (Kindle)

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Review: ‘Shelter from Thunder’ by Michael Cargill

Genre: Historical fiction
Length: 16 pages

I have awarded this short story 5 stars.

[Warning: This short story is set during the Second World War, and is written from a child’s perspective.]

Summary: Sam is a quiet and lonely boy who had the misfortune to be born a few years before World War II. Finding shelter from German bomber planes is almost a daily part of his life now but he wonders when his luck will run out…

Review: I won’t lie, I was VERY sceptical to start this story. Being a history student, and having done history at GCSE and A Level standard, I am very familiar with every element of the Second World War, and was dreading the thought of reading another historically inaccurate story. However, I was pleasantly surprised and loved every minute of it! Being well written, historically accurate and well researched, I even recommended it to a girl on my course!

Reading this story, I felt so incredibly sad for Sam. The author really brings to life the feelings of fear and dread surrounding the Blitz, and makes his characters really relatable. Understandably, he isn’t close to his parents any more and doesn’t know how to talk to them. What is there to say to someone when hiding in a bomb shelter and praying you all survive?

Sam is beautifully constructed and completely believable. He is prone to digressions and sees the world in the way a child would (for example, noting that Hitler’s moustache looks like part of his upper lip is missing). As well as the digressions, we see Sam’s hatred for having to carry around a gas mask at all times. Yes, life saving, but also embarrassing for children! I felt that this feeling really came through, adding to the depth of the character.

[CAUTION: SPOILER IN NEXT PARAGRAPH]

The ending, however, completely devastated me. Having read this on the train, I had quite a few people ask me what I was reading that made me look so sad! While Sam’s death was described quite vaguely, it was extremely hard hitting. Having heard of Sam losing his friend and being bullied, and his strained relationship with his parents, it is extremely difficult not to feel sorry for his loss.

★★★★★ – Sad, but beautiful. Well written, historically accurate and hard hitting.

Where to buy:
Amazon UK (Kindle)
Amazon US (Kindle)