Saturday, 23 May 2015

Book Review: Oxford Marmalade by Lesley Hayes


Synopsis: From the author - Oxford: A place where liaisons are made and hearts are broken. There's Dinah and her second husband Piers, happily married for 15 years, or are they? Then there's Dinah's son Kit, involved with Poppy, whose husband only realizes he loves her when it's too late...

Review: After reading a number of longish stories, it was nice to get back to a short story style, and in the case of Oxford Marmalade, we have several short stories to sample on.

From the cover, it's virtually impossible to tell what is contained within its pages, but from page one, we can understand the author's extremely creative approach to writing. The beauty of this book is that it's possible to read one story, feel you have completed something and understood it, before going about your usual routine. 

However, in many cases the stories are linked through the characters and it is here that I think Oxford Marmalade elevates itself from a potential nice and okay set of stories, to something far greater.

There are eight tales in all, good value for a short collection of stories, and predictably opens up with the title story. Focussing on a rather strange marriage (not that there are many normal marriages!) where husband and wife have grown apart after fifteen years together, instead of strengthening the bond that living together, winning and losing battles together, looking out for each other, should duly involve.

Piers is a man with certain standards, likes things 'just so' and his wife Dinah needs to go along with it. Not that Piers is a control freak - he just appears like someone best not to mess with his order of the universe.

He seems the polar opposite of Dinah's first husband, an American she was with for seven glorious and wild years. Seven wild years that produced one son, called Kit.

The marriage with oh-so-British Piers seems to have become a bit too sedate for Dinah. He would begin by saying things like (paraphrased) 'pass the marmalade, old thing...'

Truly, I can see where Dinah's coming from. I may be older than some people, but certainly younger than others. Once Piers refers to his wife like this, he's saying 'Oh, you're comfortable for me...I can say things like this to you and they really are terms of endearment. You're not really an old thing. Now pass me my super special marmalade.'

How about drowning Saville Row suit-wearing Piers in the stuff?

His snobbish ways are the opposite of Kit's slow drawled father. Perhaps Dinah was missing him, and we are perhaps all guilty on occasion of thinking of our former loves, no matter how well our current relationship is going.

Dinah's problem with Piers, if it could be confined to just one, was that he was a throwback to another time, perhaps one that exists in his mind only.  He would be pleasant without being exciting, promoting a facade of decency rather than being true to himself.

That said, I could understand Piers' revulsion when Dinah would speak with ex-husband Hubbard. It seemed that time - or the predictable marriage in which she now found herself had tempered her feelings somewhat. During phone conversations, the Dinah that Piers expected her to be was rather different with her ex.

The battle that became a war of two losers, ultimately became resolved by time and other factors. Could I see Piers and Dinah - post THIS marriage, acting in this way? I'm not sure I could.

There's all sorts of fascinating angles at play here. Normally, marriage stories would be a no-no for me. Coronation Street, EastEnders and so on are a permanent non-fixture in my home, because there is only so many times you can recycle a story. You know where it's going before it has ended. There is no surprise, no wonder, one dimensional characters that you basically would not care to have living anywhere near you.

Kit is a reminder of what Dinah once had, and Piers naturally has a rocky relationship with him because of it. 

Through later stories, we understand Kit's seething hatred for Piers, but 'good old chap' Piers doesn't bite the bait, even in one of my favourite scenes in the entire book. 

So why should you read this book? Well, Oxford Marmalade is a collection of stories that are cleverly written, often with a prose that made me feel a lot more educated as a result. Sometimes I read books and feel like I have lost brain cells in the battle to care about the characters the author created to light up the page.

Oxford Marmalade has an impressive cast of characters that all have their own motivations. The reveals are something you will see coming, or you won't. That's the author's power - Miss Hayes gives you a set of believable circumstances  (especially in the collection's second tale, Under the Circumstances), that makes you believe everything is other words, just so.

It's hard for me to categorise this book. Suffice to say, this is a different, engaging, brilliantly written tale (or tales, but you will see the link between them all) of people at different stages of their lives. Different stages, wants, desires, ambitions, and needs.

Some of the lines, depending on where you are in your life, really do hit home with amazing clarity. It's so great when an author can do this, but as I said, her ability is obvious from page one.

"You don't like Americans on've never forgiven them because one got to screw my mother before you, and turned her into a package deal that included me."

"The beast with two backs." (I've kept that very short...if you know what it means, great...if not, you really do need to read this collection!).

"He turned from prince to frog and croaked his slimy way back through the forest into the bloodied heart of the dying sunset."

Poetic, written with authority, and always engaging, Oxford Marmalade should not just be on your to-read list, it should be on your to-read-TODAY- list.


Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Book Review: Darkly Wood by Max Power

Darkly Wood
"The Wicked Witch of the West was the bad one." Heather Donahue

"Then we should go West." Michael Williams.

- The Blair Witch Project, 1999

Having been on my read list since February, through creating works of my own I have read a number of books in that time. Darkly Wood, by author Max Power, has affected me more than most, and even though I have finished it today, I think I will be thinking about this book for a long, long time.

Darkly Wood has a run time of almost 400 pages, and each page contains magic, mystery, and a dark compelling tale that, like the film I quoted at the top of this review, has no gratuitous scenes and just a few violent segments that are purely in context.

When I was a young kid, I read stories by Ruth Manning-Sanders. She collected many stories, often from the Baltic European states, placing them in book collections like Ghost and Goblins, Witches and Wizards, and so on. Each story was compelling, different, and utterly unforgettable. I still have those books, and many more by Ruth Manning-Sanders, more than 30 years on.

Having completed the book, I scanned through some of the other reviews, and mentions are made to Edgar Allan Poe, and I can understand the comparison.

When the heroine of the story, the plucky and able Daisy May first happens across a book by J S Toner, The Tales of Darkly Wood, and she begins to read the stories contained within, every segment focusses on a single character, and over the next few pages, we are introduced to the character's story, motivations, and back story. Then, as they typically do, their life literally unravels before our eyes. Then the chapter has ended, and we are back with Daisy, who, against her better judgement, seems unable to stay from visiting the Darkly Wood of the title.

I recently read 'Forsaken', a clever story within a story about a writer, and a witch that he would have appeared to have created, now inexplicably able to attack his family in the real world. I never thought, on reading Darkly Wood, that this clever story within a story ultimately brings us, along with Daisy May, to the awful terror that resides within Darkly Wood.

We've all heard those tales. And it was never so expertly summed up than by one uncredited man in The Blair Witch Project when he said "Damn fool kids'll never listen."

Only Daisy May doesn't seek confrontation with the beast. But in line with the boy she cares about, there seems to be only one way to unravel its dark secrets - and enter the cursed place.

The author is from Ireland and the Emerald Isle is famous for its scary places. Indeed, the best horror writers are from Ireland in my view - Bram Stoker, and Sheridan le Fanu to name but two.

In Darkly Wood, each chapter creates a dream like state that really makes you think. I really don't know how the author has created this work - it is a hugely ambitious tale that is woven absolutely superbly.

I was utterly engrossed in the tale, but had to leave it after a few chapters to try and absorb them. On their own, each could have been expanded into a story on their own.

The characters, once introduced, are not ones you will forget. The names are clever - unusual - but very clever, and I could not disagree more with one review that said this story used flowery language. I have read many books that were heading for a strong three or four star rating (or better) only to spoil it with pretentious fluffy words that just killed what could have been a great story.

This story has NONE of that. It's perhaps too clever for anyone who wants blood and guts, endless sex scenes, and a story without a soul. What a soul this book has!

This story is without peer for me. I loved it, absolutely loved it. 

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Author Q&A With Simon E Bond

Author Simon E. Bond has recently been added to my read list, having penned the excellent 5 Day Festival. He is in Indie Author, and like many out there, needs help from you - the readers, the bloggers and yes....other authors to get the word out there.

This is a brief insight into Simon. His contact links are below!

Thank you to Simon for taking time to answer the questions!

Tell us why did you start writing? 

I was made redundant last November from my old job i heard a lot about indie authors and decided to give it a go for myself, also writing helps me escape from the real world.

Where do you get your ideas from?

Any idea that happens to pop into my head, i quickly note them down so i don't forget them.

5 Day Festival

Your vampire book, 5 Day Festival pays homage to the likes of The Lost Boys, and perhaps 28 Days Later too. But where did the original concept for the story come from? 

I was sat watching Glastonbury on the TV one day and thought it would be a great idea to mix horror with a huge social gathering, and from that i just went with the idea deciding a short story would probably work best at the time. 

What was the first vampire / horror themed book that you read?

Hmmm, Bram stoker's Dracula i think.

What was the first vampire / horror themed film that you saw?

Lost Boys of course.

Best horror villain – and why!

Micheal Myers from Halloween, still freaks me out to this day, amazing what horrors are hidden behind a mask.

What is your all time favourite book, and why?

1984 George Orwell because of it's scary vision of society's future, i will stop there.
Have you read books where the plot was great but the character development was poor, and vice versa? Was it enough for you to finish the book (s)?

I have not arrived at such a scenario just yet, what i have read so far both elements seemed to work just right together.

What is the most disappointing book you have read?

I don't think i have read anything of disappointment, each book has felt like a good adventure in it's own way.


Tell us about the difficulties you had in order to get published.

None at the moment.

What is your favourite book of the ones you have written?

It has to be Credit Rush my first book in a science fiction space opera series, i plan to release 3 books in total followed by numerous back stories for each of the characters.

What was the first book you ever read?

Now that is a difficult one.

E-Readers are very popular now. What was the first book you read on your e-reader?

First book i read on my amazon fire was Dracula, and Phone Monkey "The Secret Diary of a frustrated Call Worker"

Which authors inspire you to read?

Stephen King, and all indie authors.
Which authors inspire you to write? 

All indie authors, but i am a fan of Micheal Robertson he pulls no punches with his books.

Have you read a book that really surprised you, in that it looked okay, but turned out to be much better?

Yes, Killing the dead by Richard Murray it tells the story of a serial killer who is surrounded by the undead.  I thought it would be your average zombie read i gave it a go and was very surprised.  The concept of a serial killer and the undead worked a treat and it felt refreshingly different.

What is your favourite book series and why?

The Crash Series, by Author Micheal Robinson.

Who is your favourite heroine?

Supergirl, she looks good in a cape.

Who is your favourite hero?

Han Solo.
Do you think there are many original stories out there, or is everyone re-hashing The Hunger Games and Twilight to death?

There are a lot of original stories out there, but i do find there is a lot of re-hashing of zombie stories fight for survival, huddled together, food is running low for survivors etc.

What keeps you motivated to keep writing?

My children, and my sanity.

What is the best debut novel you have read?

The best one, let me think well it has to be Crash by Micheal Robinson, although not a debut as such it was the first Indie book i really took a shine to. 
What kind of research do you do for your books?

Mainly on the internet, but i write fiction so not that much is needed.
How long does it take you to do a first draft?

If my mind is on the ball usually around 3 months or so, that is without any distractions.

What is the best thing about writing for you?

It gives me a great sense that i have achieved something, and always brings a smile on my face when the end product is all done and dusted.

And the worst thing?

Writers block grrrr

Do you have a minimum number of books to read each year? 

No number, just read as many as i can time permitted.

How do you find time to read?

It's hard with the children, mostly when i get a spare minute or when the children are in bed.

What's your favourite book cover?

I really like Ready player one by Ernest Cline, the most original cover i have seen so far.
Do you have any special editions of books, for example, a very old, one of a kind book that may be now out of print?

No, which is a shame.

E-Readers or Printed Books. What's your preference?

Both to be honest.

Now a difficult question! What is your favourite inspirational quote?

John Lennon  "Life is what happens when your busy making other plans."

Other things now. 
Favourite film? Star Wars
Favourite food? Indian
Favourite author? Indie wise, Micheal Robinson
The one book you would have on your own desert island? Treasure Island
Favourite location? Iceland (i have never been by the way, but it looks amazing there.)
Favourite actor? Christian Bale
Favourite actress? Kate Winslet
Favourite drink? Beer
What's the best thing about being you? Being a Father to 5 children
And the worst thing? 

Rubbish at DIY
Thank you Simon!

Twitter @writingstation7
Facebook (include separate author page if you have one)
Blog page -  Simon has no blog yet

Comprehensive list of books, including forthcoming ones
A Weekend At Stanley's
5 Day Festival
Credit Rush Outpost Krone

Upcoming books
Lorna (A Krone Series Short)

Monday, 18 May 2015

Three Tales of Vampires: Cover Reveal and Book News!


This is not a new book, but a collection of the first three books in my vampire series. It contains three stories:-

  • Murderous Little Darlings
  • The Blood and the Raven
  • Innocent While She Sleeps
I've created this version for some of you who like collection type stories and it works out cheaper to buy this collection than all three books separately. But sometimes I will do a deal on the books via Amazon KDP. This collection, however, is not part of that, because I would like to promote it on other platforms like iBooks and

This is the Amazon page for the book

You can add it on GoodReads here

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Book Review: Betrayal by Sharon Brownlie

Synopsis (from the author):-

Helen King’s childhood was marred by physical abuse and rejection. At the age of fourteen she finds herself in the clutches of a pimp in Gloucester. He lures her into a life of drugs and prostitution. She uses her drug addiction as a way to blank out the memories and it enables her to hide the psychological scarring caused by those that she felt had abandoned her. 

Her life was spiralling out of control. Helen’s decision to quit her addiction comes at a time when she has a chance encounter with an old school teacher. This opens up old wounds that had remained hidden and festering deep within her. It also leads to her decision that it is time for payback for all those that she felt had betrayed her. Helen, bitter and twisted, heads to Edinburgh to begin her killing spree. 
When the first body is found the police are mystified. When a second body turns up they quickly realise that it is the same killer. They face a race against time to find the connection and the killer. 

As the title suggests, there is going to be some events happening where eventually, payback has to happen, either through karma - if you believe in that sort of thing, or through the main characters actions.

Sometimes, I like to read books because at the most basic level, if well written, they can be enjoyable and entertaining. Stories with a dark theme are fine if they are in a fantasy setting.

Betrayal is a hard book to review because it's generally opposite to what I read - it is very hard hitting account of a woman who has been abused by all and everyone around her. Oh, I know the passer by wouldn't necessarily know of her problems, and Helen - our anti-heroine, of sorts, is not someone I immediately warmed to.

That's fine, because your main character should have flaws. If he or she is perfect, how can you root for them.

But Helen was largely unlikeable in the early chapters, and yet, underneath the story I could see that the premise would be amazing if executed correctly.

Here's where author Sharon Brownlie scores very high indeed, and perhaps it is typical of many books. Some start out like a rat out of a trap, and fizzle out after 30 or so pages. Others take there time to grab you. There's a general convention that if a book hasn't hooked you by 50 pages, it's probably not going to. I am fair to all books I read, so I extend this to a 100. 

With this book, I really wasn't sure. But it nagged at me for a few days, whilst I finished reviews on others. One afternoon, I read it again from the start, and did not stop until I had finished.

This book has stayed with me for several days after, and as I try to process this review, I'm still trying to make sense of what I've read!

The story is set in Gloucester which is not too far away from where I live, thirty miles or so. These days, the county of Gloucestershire boast beautiful scenery, a stunning cathedral, terrific centre with more shops and restaurants than you can shake a stick at.

However, this story is 1980s Gloucester, ravaged by a poor economic outlook, houses that were crumbling, and a people, like Helen in the story, who appeared to have just given up on life.

But you know what you're in for from the very first line:-

"The man slapped Helen hard across the face and grabbed her by the hair, and threw her onto the bed."

Over the next few paragraphs, we are exposed to such brutal scenes that if this were a film, one would have to look away from the screen, and cover their ears for good measure.

Trying to describe this as hard hitting doesn't really scratch the surface. 

Helen had run away from a care home in Gloucester, and her life unravels into prostitution and drugs, drugs and prostitution - a life she cannot seemingly escape.

When the loathsome Addie finds her and quickly indoctrinates her into 'the life', she is initially resistant. Yes, she is dependent on drugs, but does not want to be a prostitute.

Throughout different points in the book, Helen points the finger of blame at many people. It wasn't clear to me if she hated her father more for abusing her, or for those around him that did nothing.

Here's a disclosure of mine - I am a martial arts teacher and (and having gained their trust) for several years taught a group of women who were survivors of domestic abuse. I heard from them stories that I could not believe were real - in the sense that another human could do this to another human. Even now, when I think about it, I can't believe there were any circumstances that justified what happened to these girls.

Of course, this happens to males too. Abuse has no gender, does it?

So Betrayal is no Disney story, and is a very hard read.

Why then should you read Betrayal?

Well, once the story gets going - I mean, once the nasty acts pass and the character motivations become clearer, the story changed from a dark tale of abuse to a taut, gritty thriller that I could not put down.

This is a story you have to take a chance on. It's hard, brutal, unflinching in its descriptive detail. The dialogue changes from stilted in parts to fully understanding what is going on. I blamed part of how Helen talked, on the drugs themselves. But I think she was an extremely frightened young woman who basically life had trampled on from the start.

I rooted for her but not in the way I expected.

The ending is satisfying and yet, still has me thinking some days on!

I know 'must-read' is a well worn phrase, but do give this book a try. It is an examination of the human condition, and a damning report on what humans are actually capable of doing to each other.

A brilliant book that will make you think. 

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Book Review: 5 Day Festival by Simon E Bond

5 Day Festival
In summary: A thoroughly enjoyable vampire novel that doesn't trade shocks for length.

5 Day Festival, a vampire novella by Simon E Bond, is a story that centres around a group of youngsters at a rock festival. Now I've been to Glastonbury, Knebworth and other places. My concerns were things like 'What if the M5 is shut' or 'will we even be able to see anything from where we stand?' You know...things like that.

This horror story has made me rethink my next trip to Glastonbury! Vampires on the prowl and music do not make for a good mix, unless you are the vampires in question.

What makes 5 Day Festival work so well is its very strong narrative. Some of the dialogue has swearing in it - perhaps understandably given the context, but after a while I felt it took away from the undeniably strong storyline which I totally enjoyed.

The ending with Vernard is satisfyingly brutal, but in a good way.

As the patrons start to end up dead - or undead, our core group of characters have survival on their minds, but surviving the fanged ones won't be easy, and to be fair, I didn't know if they would. Novellas tend to spring surprises and 5 Day Festival was choc full of them.

I also enjoyed the fact that this is set in England and I would read more stories of this ilk from the author.

"Vampires - we have to get out of here," he replied

"How many drugs have you been taking today? Too many, by the sound of it," said Doug.

Oh Doug, you really do need to look up from your bowl of sushi sometimes! Vampires on stage...surveying how many people they could kill, is a scene that is terrifyingly executed.

Simon E Bond is an author to watch. His other work, Weekend At Stanley's looks suitably clever and smacks of Inside No9 / The League of Gentlemen for its wicked macabre yet comic delivery.


Friday, 8 May 2015

Book Cover Reveal: Reunion of the Blood - A Tale of Vampires Book Five

The Tale of Vampires series was always meant to be a seven-book chronicle of vampire lore. Over the course of the four books that have already been released, I have attempted to focus on different elements of what vampires really are. 

Of course, they are fictional, and I feel you do have to separate the books from the films. 1992's Bram Stoker's Dracula, by Francis Ford Coppola was subtitled Lover Never Dies. I thought it was an excellent film, and rather clever of the director to make the story more of a romance. The original book is far different, but this film version works well. At no point was I scared of the movie, but it has a majesty about it that has let it hold up its elegance as time has passed.

In 1995 we were treated to Neil Jordan's Interview With The Vampire. I was of Anne Rice's mind, that Tom Cruise -a good actor in his own right, could not have the menace and presence of Lestat.

How wrong I was, and happily so. Cruise was a fantastic Lestat who was never over the top, and it is a regret that he never reprised the role. He said 'I would not do sequels unless it would stretch the character' and yet he has made five films with his Ethan Hunt character.

I grew up watching many British Hammer Horror films, and from Dracula (1972) to other films like Twins of Evil, The Vampire Lovers and more, I have drawn much inspiration for my tales.

However, the modern day incarnation, though interesting, was not something I wanted to do with my series. Twilight - the story of a girl who falls for a vampire, and his battles to not make her like him, was interesting, but devoid of real horror for me.

I have enjoyed writing this series, and with three books to go, I hope to have brought vampires back to the way I believe they should be. But to quote one review from the second book, The Blood and the Raven:-

Quite right too - I don't intend for this to be a romance. I hope if you pick up the series, you will enjoy it.

Thank you to Merril for being the first to reveal this on her fantastic blog:- The Original Cover reveal on Read Watch and Think