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!

Friday 14 August 2015

Book Review: Ivy's Envy (Want & Decay Trilogy, #1) by Latashia Figueroa


Synopsis: Latashia Figueroa’s riveting Want & Decay Trilogy follows the entangled lives of three people tormented by lust, jealousy, madness and murder. In this first book, Ivy’s Envy, Ivy James has had a history of violence with the men she falls for. Her grandmother and parents know what Ivy is capable of when things don’t go her way. 

Now Ivy has become obsessed with Thomas Miles, a man who works at her office. She is certain that Thomas loves her too. But there are people who stand in the way of Ivy and Thomas finally being together, like his wife, Deana. Determined to have the love that is their destiny, Ivy will go down a very dark and twisted road to make Thomas hers, and hers alone. But Ivy is not the only one who has dark secrets, and everyone involved will soon learn that pursuing love and passion to the extreme can lead to terrifying consequences. 

Review: Wow! Talk about a book that could not be put down! Ivy's Envy starts with a bang, continues to hold one's attention throughout, and ends with the kind of ending that would have any reader drooling with delight.

I tend to err on the positive side with my reviews, but I really cannot find anything to fault with this story. It's a short read, well told, with superb characterisation. It's also told from first person perspective, so everything you read puts you in Ivy's head, and that is a dangerous place to be.

Ivy seems to be beyond redemption. She's bad, wicked and so evil it is likely fresh roses would wilt when she would walk by them.

Her obsessive nature - to get what she wants, usually, a man she wants, means that she succeeds for a while, as all psychopaths do. They start to believe their own hype.

The story works because whilst it moves fast, it is brilliantly paced. I would not hesitate to read the later books in the series. This story hits you over the head with one revelation after another. It's all believable. It totally works, and yes, it could happen in the real world.

The ending was quite something, and closes this part one very nicely indeed. 

I don't think I've read a book this short (1-2 hours maximum read time) that left me reeling. It has made an incredible impact. It's a horror of the highest order - for the most part it reads like a mystery, with elements of romance. But the horror parts are clever, subtle, and utterly brilliant.

You will love it.

Thursday 13 August 2015

Book Review: The Experiencers (The Valiant Chronicles, #1) by Val Tobin


Synopsis: Black ops assassin, Michael Valiant, questions the motives of the government agency that hired and trained him when they order him to neutralize members of a UFO group. After his wife dies in what appears to be a traffic accident, Michael, with the help and support of his partner, pushes aside his doubts and immerses himself in the jobs he needs to complete.

When Michael learns the truth about his wife's death, and uncovers the Agency's true motives, he turns rogue, and helps Carolyn Fairchild, one of their targets and a psychic medium, escape capture.

Their journey takes them from a town in Southern Ontario to the Algonquin wilderness, where they must elude not only the agency that wants to silence them, but also the aliens who want to retrieve Carolyn at any cost. When the aliens come for Carolyn, she is forced to choose between saving herself and saving her daughter, and Michael faces the prospect of losing Carolyn forever.

The Experiencers is the first book in the Valiant Chronicles series of novels. Book two will be released in winter 2015.

Review: The Experiencers is a uniquely engaging read that has an extremely interesting protagonist in Michael Valiant, the aforementioned Black Ops operative in the synopsis. If you look at the story from his point of view, you will read the story in one particular way.

We are introduced to Michael early on, so readers can tell his role will be a pivotal one. An educated guess says that he is the one on the pretty excellent cover.

Later chapters introduce us to Shelly, who is having an affair with a man, whilst considering breaking it off out of some well placed loyalty to her husband.

The early part of the book reads like bottle episodes where the link with the later episodes seemed initially unclear, but that was just my perception. Actually, if you look at the book as a whole, a rather intricate storyline emerges. This is what I think makes The Experiencers a true gem. It's like one of those Russian Dolls. You believe you understand it, you believe you know the characters and their motivations. 

But this is book one in the series, and if you read between the lines, you'll begin to be amazed at the attention Val Tobin has given to her characters.

Each are well drawn and developed. Carolyn was on a par with Michael for me, as I have a spiritual side and the way she explores her talent is pretty amazing. 

Then...there's the aliens. Quite honestly, there is so much going on with this story it demands at least a second reading, which is what I chose to do.

If anything, the second reading is much more enriching. I felt empathy for characters that really didn't touch me on reading one; I imagine as the author constructed her edits for the book, she may have felt the same.

For a debut, this is an extremely well written tale that I imagine will be perfected in book two. I would definitely recommend this book and would give it a very strong 4.5 stars. (So 5 on Amazon, 4 on GoodReads).

Monday 10 August 2015

Book Review: Write Your Novel! From Getting Started to First Draft by Maggie James


In a nutshell: This book is more than it appears to be.

We've all seen them. The endless help guides, many of them good, some of them just plain awful, others are middling. What's clear from the opening pages is that merely reading this book won't be enough. Of course, what readers will expect from this kind of book is one that is well written and easy to follow.

But Write Your Novel is so much more than that!

This book is simply bursting with great ideas. I thought I had a good writing system in place, but the Pomodoro exercise is excellent, and writers really should put this into practise.

There are things mentioned in the book that I cannot comment on even though I have heard about them and their merits - Scrivener, for example. Maybe I will take the plunge on this one day!

Other elements mentioned, such as NaNoWriMo - well I attempted this in 2014 and wrote 37,000 words in that month. The fact I did not complete the 50,000 challenge did not bother me, because I was working on other writing projects at the time.

But I can see the use of it as a motivational tool.

One of the things I liked most about the book was the use of inspirational but relevant quotes dotted throughout its pages.

This made more sense here than just a random Twitter or blog reference. It meant a writer could put the motivational quote into practise there and then.

I really loved how the author broke down pretty much every aspect of writing. The segment about

"You're a human being. you'll have been through joy and sorrow...."
"...put these emotions into your writing and your characters." (para)

This is good. It may seem like common sense but so many stories I read are ruined because whilst some thought has been put into the story, almost zero effort has been put into the character creation.

There's too many points to really reference here, but I especially liked this one:-

A shiver of fear ran up my spine, making my hair stand on end.

As a horror writer I loved this, (not the line, but the example) but it is so obvious we can as writers write the same thing three times over in the same sentence, when one element would have sufficed.

The book doesn't stop there. The character breakdown is a little over done (political views may not apply to my characters, but may do to yours) but this is better than selling the character short.

Basically, if you are in dire need, or moderately dire need of getting that novel written, this book works as a guide, motivational support, an ass-kicker if you are slacking, and a deep resource guide to make your book the best it can be.

At just over 100 pages long it seems like it may be too short to have anything new to offer. I consider myself reasonably experienced at this writing journey and yet I felt I learned loads from this book.

Tuesday 4 August 2015

Book Review: Skin Cage by Nico Laeser


Synopsis (from the author): Daniel Stockholm was fifteen years old when a parasite hijacked his brain, rendering him paralyzed and reliant on machines that run day and night to keep him alive. 
For nine years, Danny has been confined within a biological prison with only two small windows, through which to view the world around him; a silent witness to the selfless compassion of some and the selfish contrivance of others. 
When the malicious actions of care worker, Marcus Salt, threaten to push Danny farther from the ones he loves, and deeper into the dark recesses of his skin cage, he is left with only one option. He must find a way out.

Review: Nico Laeser is an author name you would remember, and Skin Cage is such  a strange and affecting title for a book. Then, you consider the artwork, which just adds to the overall strangeness. The synopsis adds another level to this - and then - you start reading.

Skin Cage holds the reader's attention from the start, telling us the story of Daniel (Danny) who gives clues to his state. He is paralysed, and can hardly move anything, save for his on occasion or when his head lols to one side or another whilst being repositioned in his chair.

It is told in first person perspective. I've told a few stories like this already and it is a skill that most authors cannot pull off effectively. Ultimately, if you don't care about Danny, the first person narrative starts to grate. However, the author has been smart in keeping his chapters short but utterly readable. It's not a book you can skip parts on and understand what is going on. The author treats his reader with respect by saying 'you're in Danny's head with his thoughts, and in his body through his skin cage - if you casually skim past stuff, we will punish you by not filling in the blanks.'

Here is a story where each word, each sentence and paragraph has been painstakingly thought through before committing to paper and screen. 

Danny's view of the world is a strange one. He has his carers, some, like Cassie and Anna, who genuinely care about him. There are others, like Marcus Salt, who seems to be the villain of the story, but again, Skin Cage is not so explicit in the difference of black and white. 

Despite the engaging narrative and thoughtful 'thoughts' of Danny, which are always interesting, the story is never heavy, but neither should it be taken as light reading.

In the first third of the book, I found myself clocking up the chapters even though I hadn't sat through and read it for say a solid hour. By the second third (forgive me, I have an ice hockey past!) things take a dark and twisted turns. A few 'a-ha' moments arrive. That's not the end of it. Or the start.

By the final third, there was only one thing to do - finish reading this elegant and articulate story and find out the ending. It's hinted at where the story is going. But once Danny escapes his skin cage - a sequence that I thought was brilliantly highlighted in the synopsis but wondered could it possibly work in its execution - wow,  is all I can say.

Skin Cage sounds dark, twisted and disturbing. It is. But it is also funny, engaging and well worth anyone's time and money to read. I say that with the confident knowledge that this book is fighting against millions of others to be seen.

Scenes where a nurse is wondered a character may harm themselves should be disturbing. Instead, the author gives us a humourous scene:-

"Can I have a pen and paper?"
"I'm not going to kill myself with it."

Another scene.

I would love to have the use of my body for long enough to deny him the further use of his.

There's a scene with a car that was my favourite moment in the entire book. It's so good, you will simply have to read it. I must also apologise to the author -Skin Cage has been on my read list for ages - but thankfully, it's been read now. I hope this review will help others to read it sooner than I did!

Sunday 2 August 2015

Book Review: You're Not Alone - An Indie Author Anthology by Ian D Moore and Friends


Synopsis (from the author): An international group of indie authors, inspired by the personal grief of one, decided to collaborate in the spring of 2015 in a project to create this multi-genre smorgasbord of original short stories, all with the same potent theme – relationship. Some are heartfelt, some funny, some poignant, and some are just a little bit scary – much like relationships themselves. All are by authors fired by the shared enthusiasm to give something back in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. 100% of the profit made on the purchase of this book, in any format, goes to the charity. Cancer touches us all. It has in some way affected those who have contributed their time and talent here. This is our way of showing that we care.

 Indie authors carry forward a revolutionary shift in publishing, which allows the author to be creative director in their own work. There are many exceptional, experienced and acclaimed writers who have decided to take this bold step in publishing. In producing this anthology we have also had the inestimable assistance on board of artists, graphic designers, and bloggers – all of whom have a place in our acknowledgements. You, the discerning reader, are the other vital part of this equation. By buying this book you are supporting the work of indie authors, as well as discovering their worth. You are also supporting the charity to which we have chosen to dedicate our work.

100% of the royalties earned or accrued in the purchase of this book, in all formats, will go to the Pamela Winton tribute fund, which is in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support.

Review: Now this is going to be tricky. How can I review a book that features so many authors, some whom I am familiar with, others less so? 

I'll start with an admission. I treated this much like an LP (remember those) or a CD of an album I had bought, where I knew some of the more famous tracks. That's right - I read the authors I had previously read first. Not sure why I did that, but maybe it was because I had read a book of theirs already, in most cases it had been a full length novel they had written. Fully understanding the difficulty of condensing a story into a novella format, I wondered if they could pull it off.

Before I dissect the stories themselves, I would like to pay a special tribute to Ian D Moore for pulling this off - bringing so many authors together was no easy feat, and yet with You're Not Alone, that's what we have right here. 

Add to the fact that the proceeds contribute to a worthy cause - Macmillian Cancer Care, and there is yet another reason to buy this book.

Readers of course, will want to know what it is all about. Here goes.

There are stories that pay an obvious nod to people affected by cancer, and I pay tribute to them for tackling such a hard subject. My own father went from an apparently healthy man to death's door within a matter of weeks, once this brutal disease had taken hold. The fact he had long left the marital home was irrelevant. Whatever differences he and my mother had did not disguise the fact that he was a human, and this disease tore him apart.

I suppose the overriding theme of these stories in You're Not Alone is that whoever has been touched by cancer, there is some hope, some feeling that it can be beaten. Even where it wins - it's a temporary win, because it cannot kill the love held for that special person.

With so many stories in the book, and many authors who I hold in high regard - being indies takes away none of your talent (who says established authors have got this writing thing down anyway?!), I don't wish to highlight some at the expense of others, yet I feel I must. Otherwise this review could turn out to be a book in itself.

Kayla Howarth's "Dad" is a poignant story that really pulls at you. (Having read her excellent Institute series, where she brings us a dystopian world that works), I found myself thinking about that story long after finishing it. I'm not saying it is the best of the tales, but my, does it hit home, and yet is never depressing or self-serving.

Ian D Moore is the man who brought the collection together, and his story One of Those Days is a truly brilliant story that left me absolutely floored. If you want genius in a few short pages, you could not go wrong here.      

Lesley Hayes'  A Year Afterwards opens the collection, and having read her Oxford Marmalade collection of short stories, I can say reading one of her works again was like a guilty pleasure - you know it's going to be good, professionally written as befits an author of her considerable experience, and well, I loved it.

Tom Benson's  Goals demonstrates the breadth and depth of this author. I read another collection of his and his short story here is an easy pick, and will be remembered by those who read it.

Now this review is starting to look like a love letter to independent authors. Not all the stories hit a home run, but it would be unfair to expect that. What I can say is that each other has given their all here, so if the tale didn't quite work for me, it doesn't mean that someone else wouldn't absolutely love it.

A title that stood out for me was Witch's Mark by Katerina Sestakova Novotna. Now this lady can spin a tale or two - her own Hawaiian Lei of Shrunken Heads was the oddest and yet utterly beautiful collection of stories I have read this year. I knew she would hit the heights again with an amazing tale. Her story is worth the book price alone.

An author I was not familiar with was Anthony Randall. Anyone who had relied on the little black box in their car will empathise with this wickedly clever story. For my own part, the satnav got me to Cornwall, only to direct me towards a cliff....thanks for that!

The Birth by Lucinda E Clarke is truly jaw-dropping. Make this high on your list to read!

Babes by Max Power shows the depth and sheer talent of this man. I have not read anything of his since Darkly Wood (still my book of the year so far)

There are some authors here whose individual books I have not read, but am about to. Nico Laeser, Angela Lockwood and Eric Lahti are authors to watch.  If you are unsure, look through the names. There is a wealth of talent here.

Saturday 1 August 2015

Book Review: The Elite (The Selection, #2) by Keira Cass


Synopsis (by the author): The Selection began with thirty-five girls.
Now with the group narrowed down to the six Elite, the competition to win Prince Maxon's heart is fiercer than ever—and America is still struggling to decide where her heart truly lies. Is it with Maxon, who could make her life a fairy tale? Or with her first love, Aspen?

America is desperate for more time. But the rest of the Elite know exactly what they want—and America's chance to choose is about to slip away.

Review: I'm not often swayed by a cover. It's usually more about the story. The Selection was one of several books I picked up at the same time. I was in a heavy YA reading phase, and wanted more dystopian, more zombie related stuff.

Of the latter, The Selection has none. The former - well the jury was completely out on The Selection. I didn't feel like it was a dystopian world. There were the odd mentions about how the world of Ilea was ruled, but the clear definition was lacking for me.

The Selection is more a romance than a dystopian book. I have the feeling that HarperTeen knew how to market the book, so with the success of The Hunger Games, mentioning a dystopian world, however lightly, ticked a box. There's a strong possibility the author Keira Cass fully meant to explore this darker side of Ilea in later books, and while I will admit that The Elite begins to develop that side, it is still not developed enough in my view. But this is my own personal wish for the story. If the author wished to go another direction with this, that is her right.

Let's start with what I liked. With fewer girls left in the Selection, we get to know them in more depth. Whilst Celeste is perhaps the best known of the girls after Mer, I was pleased to read more about Kriss and Marlee because I liked them from the first book. 

Maxon did a 180 for me near the end of The Selection. I could not help but call him a paper hat (tw*t) for acting the way he did. This time, he seems to understand the weight of responsibility that being King might actually mean and I liked this development for the character. He needs to be more than eye candy for the girls in my view, and again, the author succeeds.

The story overall is better, and though it ends abruptly, just like book one, the announcement that The One was already slated for release, just made sense. It doesn't get away from my belief that the story is a little too stretched out. But as a second book, it works.

Here's what was less certain. Aspen as a guard, in the palace, no less. He dumps Mer in book one, and it's never clear to me why he did that. I know why I have ended relationships with girls in the past. Aspen's actions are at odds with his behaviour. There is something of the night about him. He is too creepy for me, and as a plot device. seems to have been inserted to make the choice for Maxon and America not so plain sailing.

It's not a love triangle. Maxon also does dark things - going into the different girls rooms and one would have to be dense to know that he was playing them, and Mer, for that matter. I was pretty uncomfortable with that. 

Of course, if we are to take the dystopian world at face value, then this behaviour by the prince should not surprise or shock us. Despots do this. Can Maxon rule absolutely in the future? The rebels, such as they are, seem pretty useless, so I believe Maxon and the monarchy are safe to treat Ilea as their personal plaything.

As the book draws to its close, we are no clearer to understanding Mer. For a main character, I think she is poorly conceived. Celeste and Marlee are far better drawn, and the book is better for it.

Ultimately, The Elite works well as a second book of three. I know The Heir is upon us, but I believed that Keira Cass intended only three books for this story. It looks like it could run and run. Would I be persuaded to read The One? Yes, even though The Elite doesn't offer any real surprises. It's good, solid YA fun. I think unlike The Selection, it doesn't pretend to be anything else.