Thursday 26 November 2015

Book Review: Zodiac Lives by Rhoda D'Ettore


Synopsis: A child begins having dreams of things she could not possibly know. Things of another life. When her nightmares fail to subside, her mother researches the events and names the child keeps repeating. Unbeknownst to her, the daughter is remembering a past life. A life where she crossed paths with the infamous Zodiac Killer who terrorized San Francisco in the 1960s & 70s. 

The problem? The Zodiac was never caught, and he soon learns someone is online with intimate details about his identity. The Zodiac comes out of hiding to hunt down the mother and daughter who know too much.

Review: Well. Sit me down. In fact, pick me up off the floor. Before you think that's a bit over the top, let me just say that I do like serial killer stories, but they need to be clever, engaging, engrossing. Some go over the top with gore or other explicit details and it can spoil the enjoyment of the tale.

The author has crafted an excellent tale of the mysterious and very frightening Zodiac Killer. He reminds me a bit of BTK (Bind Torture Kill) a real murderer who killed many, and laid low for a while, until he was found out and after many years, prosecuted.

I have no interest in acting out what they do, in fact what they do repulses me, but in the world of fiction, a well drawn character like Z makes the story utterly enthralling.

It's hard not to rave about this book. I write as an honest reviewer and I can only say that each page was an utter joy to read. The characters are ones you feel for, even ones that are only in a few paragraphs (their existence cut short by Z). But the author pays attention to modern day ways in her tale too - the serial killer chat room for instance, where one of our heroines - Gail - may or may not be chatting to the actual Zodiac Killer. Even his online name - KillingIsFun, really creeped me out.

There's another story about the woman's young daughter inhabiting the soul of one of Z's victims. This is all plausible, well constructed and believable in its execution. I would argue that even if police / crime / serial killer mysteries aren't your typical genre, this could be the book to change your view.

Whilst reading this book (over two days - it's that readable) I felt I could guess who the killer really was. I will leave it to you to make your own discovery.

The story has its brutal and shocking moments, but it is always in context, and I loved that.

I've read some excellent books this year, but if you only have time / money to get a handful of books, make sure this is is amongst them. In short -I give this book SIX stars.

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Book Review: Joshua's Island by Patrick Hodges


Synopsis: Joshua is small for his age. He has been bullied relentlessly for years, and all of his friends have drifted away from him. Eve is a pretty girl who has just been recruited into the popular girls’ clique. They couldn't be more different. But as they begin their final year of middle school, their lives intersect when they are paired together as lab partners in Science class.

At first reluctant to be near him, Eve soon realizes that not only is Joshua nothing like she’d been led to believe, but that their school hides a very nasty secret. The unlikely pair enter into a dangerous relationship that will teach them both the true meaning of friendship, loyalty, and most of all, love … a relationship that will not only change both of their lives forever, but the complexion of their entire school. 

Review: There's many reviews that talk about the story of Joshua's Island. I would like to offer my story, as well reviewing this one. You see, when a child is bullied - and this extends to both girls and boys (just it is more common with boys) it makes their life a total misery, to the point that they would rather kill themselves than go to school for one more day.

The fear of the 'school tough', and his horrid group of 'friends' who zero in on someone because they are quiet, or studious, or even popular ruined many a school education. For my own part, when I was bullied, I never understood their behaviour, nor the teachers inability to deal with them.

As I read this book, the line 'where are the teachers?' stood out for me. A young child is being attacked, and needs help. The adults have to come to their aid, surely?

Throughout Joshua's Island, this tells a story of a boy who is mercilessly bullied and is brutally beaten in one terrifying and yet very realistic scene.

You might be forgiven for thinking the tale is too dark, but help is at hand in the shape of beautiful, popular Eve, who becomes Joshua's girlfriend. This is where my experience was different - I was too busy focussing on how to get through the day without trying to get a girlfriend (though I did have some happy times in that regard so it's not all bad).

My first two years at senior school was hell for me. It wasn't until I discovered martial arts and a way to fight back that things change.

Joshua's Island provides a strong message about not giving up, knowing who cares about you, and staying the course. Some children will be going home tonight, slinking into their bedrooms without barely a word to their parents, because what can they do, really?

In the end, bullies need to be shown for what they are - cowardly little scumbags who deserve all that's coming to them. In this story, the retribution is handled well. My only small qualm was Eve's involvement in the key scene between Brent (the bully) and Joshua. But the story's overall message is strong, powerful and positive. It' an extremely well written tale that actually - bullies should be made to read too. When I was at school, we read the classics - Dickens, Austen, Orwell, as well as many American authors. I would like to see schools be braver with the curriculum and choose books like this one.

A teacher reading this book could end bullying in one day by getting the whole class to read this. There is no excuse - ever - for bullying, it's disgusting, distasteful and it must stop. Joshua's Island never makes a victim out of its MC, and the switching chapter focus between Joshua and Eve is again, well constructed.

A simple, straight forward 'must read' of a book.

Sunday 22 November 2015

Book Review: Dawn of Rebellion by Michelle Lynn


Synopsis: Dawn of Rebellion is the first in a trilogy about two sisters, Dawn and Gabby, trying to find their way and their family in a desperate future. In this first book, they encounter the forces of British occupation and the seeds of a land formerly known as America.

With the final installment of a rather famous YA dystopian series about to hit our screens, you would forgive this reviewer for feeling a bit jaded with the genre. It's been about six months since I read one. I thought I could not take another. Then Dawn of Rebellion pops up and I try it. The cover looks intriguing - I'm British, and its a YA dystopian? Already, this story says 'hey, I'm different'.

And it certainly is. Sisters Gabby and Dawn are the focus of the book, and when one the siblings steals a bracelet as a super birthday present for her sister, she is promptly arrested and dispatched to an unknown location to face an uncertain fate. But it's going to be rough justice, whatever it is.

At this point in the story, I was thinking 'this is rather harsh, even by totalitarian government standards', but in the author's world, even the smallest infraction carries the heaviest price. Think about the simple themes of love in the greatest dystopian novel of them all, and yet Winston and Julia pay the ultimate price.

So whilst Dawn of Rebellion is not as dark as that particular tale, it is dark, brooding and yet at the same time, manages to work in an unforced love story between Dawn and the third biggest character in this story - Drew.

As Drew says, in one of my favourite lines from the story:-

"I have never met anyone like Dawn or Gabby. They are both strong, yet surprisingly vulnerable. Both of them will go to the ends of the earth for each other. I never knew bonds like that existed. They are the stuff of stories.In today's world, people don't just risk everything for each other."

Now here is another point of note - the POV changes per chapter. I know some readers dislike this, but I actually adore this writing style. Anyone who says 'I can't read a story shaped like this' will miss out. POV is important, but we shouldn't always expect a third person narrative. Let's change things up. And this book does.

The author gets many of the British slang right on the head of the nail,not an easy thing to achieve, so again, my respect for that.

The main thing that drove me to read this book in only three days, was the clear and strong bond between the sisters. Gabby is taken away, so Dawn hatches a plan for her rescue. Improbable chance of success? Yes. High chance of being killed? Tick. Hard to put this story down? Oh yes.

Let me just say that I loved THG - you know which series I am on about. After reading book one, I bought 2 and 3 straight away. I already purchased book two in this series. I simply have to know what happens. In my view, the story is stronger than many other YA / Dysts with its original setting, shifting POVs (that are per chapter, not per scene, so you won't get lost, I promise you) and thrilling story, and believable characters who make believable decisions, given the pressure they are under.

It's looking like a great series. Jump in.

Saturday 21 November 2015

Book Review: Secrets of an Accidental Duchess (Donovan Sisters, #2) by Jennifer Haymore

Synopsis: With her pale hair and slim figure, Olivia Donovan looks as fragile as fine china, and has been treated as such by her sisters ever since a childhood bout with malaria. But beneath her delicate facade, Olivia guards a bold, independent spirit and the kind of passionate desires proper young ladies must never confess... 

It was a reckless wager, and one Max couldn't resist: seduce the alluring Olivia or forfeit part of his fortune. Yet the wild, soon-to-be Duke never imagined he'd fall in love with this innocent beauty. Nor could he have guessed that a dangerously unpredictable rival would set out to destroy them both. Now, Max must beat a Madman at his own twisted game-or forever lose the only woman to have ever won his heart.

Review: The follow up to Confessions of an Improper Bride, Jennifer Haymore once again unites us with the Donovan sisters from book one. Olivia is unknowingly caught up in a vicious wager between the wild, young, and rather reckless soon-to-be duke, Max Wakefield.

It's a rather ungentlemanly wager that both he and the odious Lord Fenwicke become involved in. And this is only the start of the book! Fenwicke is a bad seed, that much is certain. It's not a spoiler to say just how bad he can get before the end of the story.

This is why the author creates such a good story. Her characters are fully realised, and we feel like we know each one as they take their part in the book.

What slightly stops this from being a five star read is the length of the story. It could have been trimmed by 50 pages or so and been utterly amazing. But as it stands, it is a worthy successor to the first (and arguably better book).

As with most HR's, there's love, there's confusion, there's debts to be paid and waived, and somewhere along the line, something more deeper, and more meaningful. This is why the author is one of the best HR writers out there, in my view. Both books in the series so far have been solid and entertaining, but also have the capacity to surprise - this book certainly does that.

As with the first book, the descriptive narrative is excellent. Main Bad Guy truly is a horrendous creation by Miss Haymore. Does it matter that he seems to have no redeeming qualities? No. We want him to be bad, because he brings colour to the story that would otherwise be a will they or won't they get together romance. He brings a dangerous angle to the story, and it is not for certain that Olivia will live to see her sister from book one again, or to survive this actual tale.

Thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish, I will now be looking up the next in the series.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Book Review: Tabitha: Stone Magic Book Two by J New


Synopsis: When Tabitha Stone volunteers to teach music at a children’s summer camp, she has no idea that within days her life, as well as those of her friend Gil, and the children in their care, will be placed in mortal danger. 
Convinced a camp teacher is using questionable methods, they investigate only to discover he is not who he claims, and their snooping ends with Tabitha in the hospital. 
With the help of her sister and partner, Tabitha and Gil delve further into the investigation, only to have their plan derail, when the reliability of Tabitha’s magic is thrown into question, and they discover an old enemy is hot on their trail. 
With danger around every corner, and time running out, will they be captured by the witch hunters? Or against all the odds, will they win this battle, save the children and get out alive? 

Books in the series 
1 Sophia 
2 Tabitha 

Review: In Stone Magic Book One, we were introduced to the first of five sisters, namely Sophia. Now with the second book in the series, we get to know more about Tabitha.

And what a ride it is.

First off, I have to mention the beautiful cover, which is as appealing as Sophia: Stone Magic Book One.

It was always going to be an ambitious feat of storytelling to intricately weave the lives of five sibling witches, but Tabitha: Stone Magic Book Two is certainly a huge step in the right direction.

Despite its breeziness, Sophia tried to introduce too many characters at once. In Tabitha, I believe this has been resolved, there are fewer characters, and this makes the story all the more engaging.

The principal characters are Doctor Reed, Gil, and of course Tabitha. Doctor Reed has more than something of the night about him - could he be the sinister head of the La Divinitas, as mentioned in the first book?

What seems clear is that he is Bad Guy Number One, and he means our Tabitha (who possesses such terrific skills like time travel and dream walking) a lot of harm.

Gil, however, is a good guy who is looking out for her, though he has a questionable past of his own. This is what I mean - the characters are well drawn and clearly defined here. I am still having problems with the character of Fritz, who seems as blank to me as in book one. Perhaps that the author's intention, so that Fritz will play a larger, more significant role as the series powers up.

Another example of the author's clear defining of her main characters is the subtle inclusion of the other sisters, without taking the focus off Tabitha (who I have to say is much cooler than Sophia).

Elissa, for example, appears mainly in a phone conversation with Gil, who is at pains to explain exactly where Tabitha has gone to. It's a funny, clever, subtle scene that makes me want to know more about Elissa. It is really well done.

The key for the story appears to be Tabitha's yearning for growth as a witch whilst not being harmed. She's also feisty, but not in a whiny way - she gives her sisters as good as she gets. There appears to be some needle between Sophia and herself, but a middling respect for Elissa.

Then we will move onto book three - Ophelia. This was a name I used in a book of mine - I totally love this name, and well...we don't know too much about her at this juncture.

One thing is for sure, author J New improves with each book she pens.

I loved this book.

Book Review: Human (A Ghost Story) by Brian Rowe


Synopsis: Abigail has been stuck in the same room, in the same house, for twenty-two years, ever since the night her father drowned her in the tub. She wants nothing more than to escape the confines of her ghostly prison, but her dad, who committed suicide the same night, won't let her leave. Even though she's a ghost, she can't move past the upper staircase without choking, without feeling like she's going to die all over again.

But when a new family comes to stay at the house, and a troubled boy named Percy becomes her new best friend, Abigail finds the courage to finally face her hateful father, and discover a secret about her future that will change her life forever.

Review: Human: A Ghost Story is a very interesting story that has posed a great challenge for me - the whole review could end up being a spoiler, so what can I do? 

Here goes. Abby is a girl who, over the course of the pages, discovers things about herself that are rather shocking. When she befriend a boy who is being bullied at school, she feels protective over him and wants to help him.

The issue is, Abby is fighting her own demons and in one vivid and shocking scene, we learn that all is not well in the Abby household. 

The events that take place lead on to another big story reveal, and it is so good, I will just say 'please read the book', as it won't take you long, is FREE, for heaven's sake (!) and will have you thinking about it afterwards - now that is the sign of a great storyteller.

Monday 9 November 2015

Book Review: Lost Girl (Book One of the Lost Trilogy) by Anne Francis Scott


Synopsis: Secrets can eat you up from the inside out, no matter what end of them you’re on . . .

Renowned sculptor Allison Weathers doesn’t believe in ghosts. But when a tragic twist of fate leads her to the small mountain town of Dawson Mills, Tennessee, she soon learns that the dead don't always stay silent. Shadows begin to shift in the rambling, old Victorian farmhouse she’s purchased. Voices come from nowhere. She can feel the eyes on her. Cold. Wicked.

Paul Bradford, a contractor who is bidding the renovation work on the house, believes it’s more than just Allison’s imagination conjuring up the paranormal activity. Toni Harper, a reporter for the local paper, concurs. She’s heard snippets of hand-over-the-mouth gossip from some of the town’s deputies who responded to calls in the middle of the night. Ghosts. Or so the former owner claimed in the few months before his death.

The secrets they unearth rock Allison right down to the core—a nightmare that’s just beginning. Thrust into a haunted world where the paranormal and evil collide, she has one hope of survival: unravel the sinister history buried for decades within the old farmhouse, and find the link to a muddled piece of her past.

Review: I absolutely adore horror stories with a creepy undertone. I also love well crafted horror stories that insert the shocks and gore cleverly. In many ways, Lost Girl elevates itself to something higher through its excellent telling of a paranormal mystery. The main character, Allison Weathers, is an artist practised in sculpture. The quiet town of Dawson Mills, wonderfully described amongst the real state of Tennessee, welcomes her, as does the house she moves into. But is there a reason why she ends up there?

Anne Francis Scott writes with a maturity that, amongst the deluge of YA/NA books out there, it would be easy to class this book along them. Nothing wrong with that in itself, but as I say, this is mature storytelling. 

It is just so obvious on every page, that the author has taken her time to really craft a creepy tale. You will feel sympathy with the other characters around Allison, who know of her history.

Yes, she hears voices. Yes, the pipes in the old house creak and rattle. It's played down by her acquaintances, because the author is letting our viewpoint play out in the statements of these characters. They like Allison, as do we. But they are just a bit concerned that she is reading more into things than see them for what they actually are.

Every time she tries to focus on her work, something happens to scare her. What is clever is that she is not always on her own when it happens, but many times, she is. Given the author's articulate writing style, we are still in the loop when the crazies turn up. The question is, are these ghosts in Allison's mind, remnants of her recent, psychotic past, or are the ghostly apparitions for real?

There's a ramp up in the creep factor when Allison finds an old book in the house. The character featured in this book is so good, I would rate her the best character in the book. It's hard to say more without giving the story away, but this find was a core piece of the story's first third.

The story loses pace, or maybe that is the intention of the author, about half way through. This in itself is not a bad thing, because we need to take a breath and understand the events of the first half of the book. By the story's end, it wraps up rather brilliantly with the terrific ending. It's wonderful to know that there will be another story in the series.

The dialogue between Allison and her tormentors (or her tormented mind) is really well done. It takes an author of great skill to do that.

Personally, I would have wanted more horror in the story. The eerie feel is great and kept up throughout - not an easy task for anyone, but the author managed this feat. But maybe I have read too many horror books so I am rather desensitised about it. There is a hint of romance in the story too, but it does't detract from the main story, otherwise it might have been an irritating side-show. Honestly? If I have ghosts in the house and / or demons in my head, the last thing I want is romance. I'd probably end up taking an axe to the head of she whoever would take a fancy to me.

I will certainly be reading book two, and of course I would like to read the final book in due course, so the rating of 4 is a strong one, but provisional.After the story has been read as a whole, I may come back and revise the rating upwards. 

Some great examples of the writing in this book:-

'Racked with shivers under her lightweight sleep-shirt, Allison wondered why her breath didn't frost in front of her.' 


'Going through the days, living life, because that's what time forced you to do. And somewhere in the middle of it, hanging onto a thin fragment of hope.'

I enjoyed this.

Well done, Anne Francis Scott.

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Book Review: Das Vampir by Tom Reinhart


Synopsis: A short horror story from the author of Saint Monolith and Hegemonian, Das Vampir is an exciting tale with a different perspective on vampires. It's a dark and old school monster story; more akin to Bram Stoker or Nosferatu than the glitzy vampires so common today. It's told from two perspectives: The vampire's, with the loneliness of being undead, the fear of the sun, the hiding in nasty places, the uncontrollable need to feed on the living; and that of the victims, as they fall to a bloodthirsty predator. 
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For I have become evil, and I have become death, and I fear only the light of day." 

Review: Das Vampir is a welcome throwback to the true essence of the vampire. The author pays a generous homage to Bram Stoker, and you can see in his writing a real authority in understanding the vampire's true nature. 

The immortal existence is not played out for laughs, indeed Tom Reinhart makes us understand that it is not necessarily cool to be a vampire, and the story is all the better for it. The story is short but packs no less a punch of a full novel. I would have liked a little bit more character development of the non-vampire characters, but then again, the author makes no apology (nor should he) for the reason as to why they are there in the first place.

They merely serve the purpose of being fodder for this most evil creature. 

With this author's take on vampire lore, do not expect sparkles or seduction. It feeds, it kills, it yearns to, needs to do it all over again. In this respect, the character development is bang on. 

Mr Reinhart's vampire is a winner because it is a truly terrifying entity. And now onto the sequel!