Monday, 31 August 2015

Book Review: Smoke & Mirrors by Tom Benson


Smoke & Mirrors is the second book I have read by this author, the first being another collection of tales, Coming Around. With this collection, author Tom Benson has excelled himself once again, but arguably this book is better than his first read in my view.

Here's why: Each story, twelve in all, are completely different. One never knows what is going to be in the next story. And you will be recovering from the events of the previous story, as each tale ends with a twist.

Although the books can be read out of sequence, I read them in order, and given the high quality on offer here, I was in no mood to rush through the book. I wanted to savour each one.

That's not to say every story is killer, but there are some absolutely wondrous tales here that make me think Tom Benson is going to be a very well known author one day. 

Here are my favourites:
  • Down to Earth
  • Photographic Memory
  • Mary had a little gun....
  • Smoke & Mirrors
  • A Killer in the Mist
But the above are just my personal preference. Down to Earth was so good, I read it, read it again - read it THREE times before still wondering how the author came up with such an amazing tale. This stood head and shoulders above the others for me, but here's the key thing - the whole collection is of a very high standard, and there is no filler here. If each were to be expanded into a novella or in some cases, a full length novel, it could totally work.

That's the power of the author. The stories are the star, because you can't really get to know the characters. There isn't that much time. But that is okay, because the character depth is not that important here. It is the quality of the story, and each will have something to offer everyone.

In this sense, the collection defies true classification. But I expect anyone would enjoy Smoke & Mirrors.

I would like to make reference to the formatting of the book. This is a simply beautifully looking product and looks superb on my iPad mini. So extra points to the author for delivering not only a high quality collection of stories, but also a first class product that readers can enjoy.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Book Review: The Bones of the Earth (The Bones of the Earth, #1) by Scott Hale


Synopsis: Is it wrong to kill a human … when you’re not human yourself? It’s been two hundred years since the Trauma, a catastrophic event of a now forgotten origin, wreaked havoc upon the Earth, reducing the human population from billions to thousands, and leaving the survivors as prey to humanoid hunters. 

Vrana of the Raven is one of these hunters. Her tribe has made killing humans, now known as the Corrupted, its purpose—to “keep the balance”—to ensure that the Corrupted do not rise to power and lay the Earth to ruin once more. But, one night, in the great northern city-state of Geharra, over ten thousand Corrupted disappear. And if so many can disappear so quickly, what’s to stop it from happening again elsewhere, or to Vrana’s own? Geharra, however, is not the only place to suffer from strange happenings. 

In Caldera, Vrana sleeps fitfully, dreaming of a Void and the Witch trapped within. When she is called upon to travel with Serra, Lucan, and Deimos to the abandoned city, she accepts, but only to get away from Caldera, because the Witch that haunts her nightmares has begun to haunt her days. 

Review: The Bones of the Earth is an extremely intriguing work of horror sci-fi fantasy. Whilst that might seem like a jumble of genres and hard to get working into a single book, author Scott Hale has pulled this off admirably. These days, authors need more than a good story to stand out, so the presentation is important. The book's cover is quite a work of art. It is unusual, makes you want to know more. Is the main character a force for good, or for bad?

 In Vrana, we have a plucky and strong heroine who is thrown into action almost from page one. Her motivations are not too clear to me at first, but as I read more of the book, Vrana's story became more easy to understand, compelling me to read the rest of the book. Scott Hale describes the world he has created beautifully. He does so with great command of English, and the writing is poetic in many aspects, for me, this was the star of the book.

 I read a book in late 2013 that had a similar MC, but this one was male, and seemed a little one dimensional to me. That said I enjoyed how the character killed so many and with ease. Vrana, thankfully, is a more complex character. Her kills always mean something, always having consequences, and I wondered would the hunter become the hunted?

There is a dreamlike quality to the writing that I can only imagine will improve as the author grows in stature. I would recommend this to people who enjoy different genres - there's a great mix of horror, fantasy, sci-fi, adventure in this book, and it works. 

 I love the description of Vrana herself, and the cover art reinforces my view on that. The tribal aspect of the book is interesting too, and will have readers hooked. I would just suggest that readers go beyond the 10% or so that Amazon allow on their preview - this book needs the reader's attention. Once you get into it, you won't leave it down.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Book Review: Sophia (Magic Stone Book One) by J New


Synopsis: Running away from a tragedy for which she blamed herself, Sophia Stone deliberately chose a quiet and solitary life, where her gift would do no more harm. But all that changes when a stranger rushes into the London centre where she works, and demands that she save the life of his dog. Before long they are both running for their lives against a centuries old organisation, hell bent on eradicating witchcraft. 

As assassins are hired, and friends become enemies, will Sophia and Fritz discover who is calling the shots and learn how to stop them? And will her family, forced into hiding remain safe? As they realise their chance encounter was anything but, and they have more in common than they thought, will they live long enough to act on their mutual desire and begin the process of healing? Or will their future be doomed before it’s even begun? 

Review: Sophia is the first book in the Stone Magic series, and if one thing is for certain, this is going to be a magical tale.

J New is an author that is growing with authority with each and every book she pens. From the horror and twisted tales in Predator or Prey, to the whimsical light mystery An Accident Murder - truthfully, we don't know what she is going to come up with next!

That said, penning a tale about magic and the sisterly witches that practise them, was never going to be easy. Then we learn that this is book one in a five book series!

As with the author's other books, this is an easy to read tale that reveals more layers as you progress through the story.

Obviously the focus in this book is Sophia, but there are a myriad of characters to read through and given the book's relatively short length, it can seem at times like too many characters have been thrust upon you.

Naturally this leads to us thinking, where do Sophia's other sisters and parents fit into the series as a whole. So in considering my review and how to rate this book, I give it a 4 on GoodReads but a 5 on Amazon. I think when the series has been completed as a whole, I may well review my rating upwards.

First and foremost, the cover is immediately eye catching and striking. It's a stunning cover and well done to all those involved in its creation.

In the opening chapter, we get a sense of what Sophia is actually capable of. This is a brilliantly conveyed scene, with the narrative and dialogue in perfect balance.

Later chapters show off the author's great command and use of imagery:

'She saw murders - blood flying onto a bathroom wall, entrails falling like dead snakes onto a pavement....'

This use of language is fantastic and shows that the author treats her readers with respect, in wanting to drag us into the witch's minds.

One of the other sisters, Nadia, says this:

"Magic doesn't care what language you speak, just as long as you understand the words."

As more characters are introduced, slowly but cleverly are inserted their back story. Tabitha (now why wasn't one of my sisters called that?!) was a concert pianist, and the musically inclined amongst us will love these little references.

The book retains the humour in An Accidental Murder.

"My girlfriend used to say she didn't know where everything I ate went. She used to say I had hollow legs."

Of course, the sisterly witches can't be just left to do their thing, and the enemy begins to emerge in the book. I think it is so good, I simply cannot reference it here. But when you see two words beginning with LD, you'll know what I mean.

There is some beautiful language in the book, though the plot is key and in Sophia, it's a killer one.

'People can't tolerate what they don't understand, and fear and ignorance leads to hate and violence.'

So true. When are we going to learn?

Whilst the world tangles and untangles itself, read Sophia. It's a different take on the well worn witch saga.

4.5 very strong stars overall.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Book Review: Never a Hero to Me by Tracy Black

Synopsis: Tracy Black was only five years old when her mother was hospitalised for the first of many occasions, leaving Tracy in the care of her father. His behaviour, seemingly overnight, changed from indifferent to violently abusive and, for the next seven years, Tracy was sexually and physically abused by her father, his friends and her own brother. 

All of the men were in the British Armed Forces. Tracy's father compounded the abuse by sending her to baby-sit for his paedophile friends - whilst their own children slept in other rooms, these men would find excuses to leave later or return earlier than their wives in order to abuse her, with her own father's blessing. When she sought help and safety the doors were closed as the authorities closed ranks. 

In this shocking and compelling book, Tracy Black pieces together the jigsaw of a story that has haunted her for the past forty years. She reveals the horrific betrayal of trust perpetrated by men who were considered upstanding citizens and heroes. Tracy's tale reminds us all of the terrible ways in which paedophiles work and the secrets too many children are forced to carry alone. It is only now that she can tell her full story of recovery.

Review: My love for reading is the same as many of you, I suppose. I want to be thrown into a world of fantasy, of magic, of horror, of mystery. I rarely want to read a book that has elements of realism so potent and strong that the reading experience can actually become a harrowing one.

However, the overriding feeling left with me regarding Never a Hero to Me is its incredible power. It is hard to read in certain sections, but I tell you this - it is so well written you cannot help but flip through the pages.

The story of five year old Tracy Black will hit you harder than perhaps any fantasy character you have invested your time in. Why? Because little Tracy goes through things that no one should have to go through. You'll have already gotten an idea from the synopsis.

So whilst not an easy read, it is essential reading. People need to understand that the monster in this book does not have horns or carries a pitchfork. He's a hero to some, because Tracy's father is an Army man, and of course, there are many unsung heroes in the Forces and their sacrifice should always be appreciated.

The army fights an enemy, and in this case, Tracy's father is the enemy. He abuses her. At first, the abuse starts at the kind of level that instantly horrifies - but as this happens early on in the book, I suspected worse was to come. Even in my thoughts about how awful it might be, it was worse. I can't imagine how Tracy coped.

Oh, the story takes you through the years, but the main bulk of the book is Tracy from age five to age ten.

Her father has her just where he wants her. He almost makes the abuse of his own daughter reasonable, often citing 'You want your mother to be well, don't you? So you'll have to be a good girl.'

Yes. As children we are told to be good. But when abuse is the centre of your young life, and your feelings tell you that this is wrong on every level, what does good mean anymore?

This is a story that literally drags you through the pages. You feel Tracy's pain, confusion, resentment, and yet I began to cheer when I could see the start of her rebellion. A rebellion she should have never had to start.

Her father doesn't stop there. He uses the mother's 'condition' as a reason to punish Tracy. I found myself getting increasingly annoyed with the mother, who seemed oblivious to the abuse her own daughter was suffering.

At the same time, Tracy's brother seems virtually impervious to blame. Both parents - especially the mother, lavish him with praise, whilst Tracy is treated no better than something you'd put in the bin.

Not only are we taken through Tracy's life, we are taken through several countries. When in Germany, things start to turn for the better, and there are signs Tracy may finally be able to defeat her tormentor. She just needed somebody to listen.

The cover is very striking. An innocent, beautiful looking child, but there is so much emotion and angst in that face, if one looks closely. So my congratulations to the team behind the book cover.

As ever, a book stands or falls on its content. Tracy Black has delivered a hard hitting tome which in its 300 pages deliver more than many longer books.

Uncompromisingly graphic, it may upset some, but the world isn't always butterflies and bunny rabbits.

I can't remember a book exhausting me as much as this one. It will leave you absolutely floored, and I have to say, the last two chapters are the real treasure of Never a Hero to Me.

We often see those lists - 1000 books to read before you die, and so on. This book needs to be on that list, and yours. Do not miss it.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Weekend Writing Workshop #7 - How A Writer Creates Characters and Makes Them Stand Out (Part One)

So you've got a great idea for a story. You're sure it's going to work. You've got the start, middle and ending all clear in your head. It's a wicked quest, or intricate love triangle. It's a coming of age story, or it's sci-fi piece.

The world you create is one thing. And it really could be amazing. The problems may start, or have already started to poke huge cracks through your story. Whilst it could be plot holes, nursery level grammar, or something else, what can you do about it?

Look at your characters.

Are they one dimensional? You may not think so, but they possibly are. This could be a huge reason why the story isn't working. If it cannot work for you, the creator, how can it work for other readers?

Your characters have to possess multiple layers to their personality and make-up. It's not enough to say 'Sarah has brown hair.' Is it relevant to the plot?  If so, expand on this. What hairstyle best pleases Sarah? Why does she wear it the way she does? Is she trying to impress someone, or just please herself?


A serial killer could be considered one dimensional, because we could not generally envisage doing things that they do. Often they plan their kills, so this area has great scope and potential for development. It won't be enough to say 'he's bad because his father never said 'I'm proud of you, son.' There has to be a reason for why they do what they do. If you give the reader enough back-story, they'll appreciate it.

A man who leaves his wife could be under financial pressure, having an affair, esteem issues through having lost his job - perhaps all three. A man just does not get up in the morning and decide to end a 25 year old marriage. Give the reader some breadcrumbs as to why.

Vampires, werewolves, witches and demons. You know, not every vampire has to be 'hot.' Not every witch has to be cool, or own a black cat. It may not be erotic to pitch your heroine to a demon, just so she can convert his bad ways. Fantasy characters have to have certain believable elements about them. The ones I like the most are characters that could - if you stretch the suspension of disbelief enough - fit right into our world. Yes, they  may do things that differentiate us from them, but that's how it should be, right?

Don't over egg your pudding.

Sometimes, your readers will want to catch their breath. Give your characters a break too. If it's a novella, accept that you will have to keep things tight, but a full length novel lets your characters have fun, relax, smile, cry - in essence they grow and enrich the story because you have allowed them that privilege.

If you throw them from one scene to the next, eventually there needs to be a payback. The scenes must link together and be part of a bigger picture that ties up in the end. If you give your characters yet another car chase, what's the point if they had one earlier in the story?

Writing a death scene.

Your readers invest in you their time and their energy into the characters you have created. If you kill one of them off, you had better have a good reason. It's not enough to kill character AB because you ran out of story. What if you need them later? 

Write the scene with great care. Make your readers feel it. The death of anyone should have an impact. The fact that your scenes are about fictional characters should not lessen the impact if readers care about them.

Pretentiousness in your characters.

You can't have a character quoting Keats one moment before committing a stupid act in the next scene. They should not use overlong sentences to make their point. This type of badly drawn character is the one I detest the most. A character can be honourable, charming and cool. Just use the dictionary and thesaurus for what you need, then set them down and write how you truly believe they would act, and use lines that they would say. It's got to be believable, otherwise your readers won't buy into it.

More next time. Until then, happy reading and writing, and er...oh yeah, editing and re-drafting. Don't forget that little puppy.

Previous WWW Tips are here


Friday, 21 August 2015

Book Review: Henchmen (Henchmen, #1) by Eric Lahti


Synopsis: Join a small organization of loveable bad guys: a supervillain and her henchmen. Eve, the seven foot tall, bulletproof blonde is their leader. Frank and Jean are a couple that can get into any computer or building unseen. Jacob is a rough around the edges biker type that has a deep and abiding love of guns and explosives. And Steven? Well, he’s really good at manipulating people and pretty handy to have around in a fight. As supervillainy goes, they’re just starting out. They don’t have much of a secret base. They don’t have matching uniforms. Not a one of them owns a single pair of tights. What they do have is an interest in tearing down the country and watching it burn. 

There’s just one little problem, though. No matter how tough and smart a small group may be, tearing down a country is almost impossible for five people to pull off, so they while away their time pulling small jobs and putting together as much advanced technology as they can. 

A chance encounter at a sushi bar has led them to a young woman with a terrifying secret she doesn’t even know she possesses. The Yakuza wants to use her to put pressure on a missing father. No one’s entirely certain exactly what the secret is, but it smells like a weapon and it might be just the sort of thing to help topple a nation. 

They’re done pulling small jobs. Now they’re aiming for the top – because why bother robbing jewelry stores when you can topple governments? 
Yakuza gang fights. 
Incursions into high-security, top-secret government buildings. 
Picking fake fights with losers in bars. 
A psycho ex-coworker who has some strange friends. 
And a well-dressed older gentleman who haunts dreams. 
It’s all in a day’s work for Steven…one of the world’s most dedicated and dangerous… 

Review: Well, if you have read the synopsis, you will stay around for the review. First things first, who says that synopses have to be short? The above is long but tells you all you need to know, but like most crime thrillers, you have to read the book to discover the rest.

Henchmen by Eric Lahti centres its attention around Steven, a gun for hire, though how he actually gets hired is a stroke of genius fiction. As I was reading the story it reminded me all that was best about America, but also the worst.

It does not, at any time, seek to glorify the violence in the story, which is frequent, occasionally strong, but always in context. Add in the fact that the first person narrative is so well written, that you are placed directly amongst the action. I swear I could feel bullets whizzing by my head and punches to my mid section.

Here's another reason why this book worked for me - the author has a great command of martial arts knowledge, and tells these particular scenes as a true exponent of the art of Kenpo. Styles aside, the author clearly demonstrates his knowledge of fighting and how those skills translate against the antagonists of the story.

The narrative is fast paced, but whilst the plot itself is grand in scope and detail, it's the dialogue that is the winner for me. Lines like:-

" one starts a gunfight over breasts."
"They do in Texas."

First person narrative like this:

We're not into graves in my family, just incinerate and toss to the breeze.

He pulls out some kind of tool that I swear is a leftover prop from Ghostbusters.

If that's not got you reaching for the 'buy' button (see below) how about this for a chapter title?

A Hot Chick, A Tough Guy and a Valkyrie Walk Into a Bar.

Beats 'Chapter 23', doesn't it?

The story never strays far from its core plot, the Henchmen are a group that individually, are as different as can be. When you read the character of Eve, you won't ever mix her up with another person. The characterisation is simply excellent here. Yes, there are quite a lot of characters, that perhaps extra readings of this book would flesh them out a bit more, but for me, Steven, Eve and the delectable Jessica are the stand out characters in this first in the series.

There's a little social commentary and the occasional political statement here and there, but it is never preachy and flows pretty flawlessly with the narrative.

The setting is Albuquerque for the most part, and although I haven't been to New Mexico (sorry, the nearest I got to was LA) I have imagined it with dust filled desert roads, a vast remote landscape, interspersed with the kind of modern buildings the government would have us call a city.

Ultimately, Henchmen is much more than a revenge story, though there is little doubt Steven's targets deserve to be iced. It is much more than a heist story, though there's great fun to be had when the group go on their hits. 

Here is the debut novel of an author that understands his audience. I wanted to be thrilled, entertained and have a chuckle along the way. Now click the link below to understand what I'm on about.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Dream the Crow's Black Dream (A Tale of Vampires, #4) - NEW COVER REVEAL!

Hi everyone. By necessity I have updated the cover for book four in my vampire series. it will be some time (2016 in fact) before Reunion of the Blood (Book 5) hits the shelves, so  hope you like this new version.

A great theme of the book is the crow, and what the significance is when it appears. It is fitting that it graces the cover.

There's an angel in the top left. This is necessary to give readers hope that evil won't necessarily win out.

The bird itself is perched on something. What is it? What does it all mean? Read the book, and the series to understand!