Sunday 27 March 2016

Book Review: Zeeka's Child (Revenge of Zeeka Series, #2) by Brenda Mohammed



Zeeka's Child is a continuation of the story "Revenge of Zeeka: Zeeka and the Zombies." The story evolves into a more complicated plot of kidnapping, suicide note, diamond necklace with tracking device, arson, major corruption in the Police Force and a few 'skeletons' jump out of the closet.

In a shocking turn of events, Zeeka is revealed. Detective Jack Wildy certainly has his work cut out for him in this episode. Who is the mystery Master Zeeka and who is Zeeka's child?


"This is no dream! This is really happening!"

- Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Revenge of Zeeka was a quirky, fun horror tale with zombies at its heart. Like any new born, it can struggle to walk and find its feet. However reading book two in the series (and it's helpful to read book one back too), this is confident storytelling where the author has given us more thrills and twists that might sit well in a longer book. To accomplish this in a novella is quite something.

When book one ended, there was what I would call a 'soft' cliffhanger in that readers would not be annoyed that there was a cliffhanger in itself, because it was a complete tale in itself. Now with Zeeka's Child, the plot revolves around Raynor and Janet, and the serious nature of having to raise a child that is not his own.

This is an interesting concept to feature in a zombie story, which would at first appear to be nothing more than a skin bursting sideshow, and I was a little (just a little) put off by the initial chapter because it seemed more like a romantic interlude than anything else. This is actually a very clever piece of writing by the author, because it is like she is saying 'hey, you know this is a zombie tale, I know it's a zombie tale, but let's confuse the hell out of the readers by focussing on contemporary romance for a while.' This could be the first ever zom-contemp-rom, unless you know of another story like it.

The characters are better realised here too, I like Raynor and Janet, because they act like a real couple - fawning over each other one minute before having serious disagreements. This is actually a lot more fun to read about than experience. 

However, both of them are confused, because they have a sense of duty to a child that is disproportionate. However, they have a strong bond with each other. Despite that, they still manage to throw at us a number of twists at each chapters' close.

Throw in the discovery of a necklace by local cop Jack Wildy (who makes a pleasing return from book one) and sidekick / waif-with-badge Jerry Cole. He plays an energetic, idealistic cop to Wildy's jaded persona. Cliche? Not really. These two really enhance the story, taking it into mystery-crime-thriller and away from zom-contemp-rom land.

This could be the first ever zom-contemp-rom, unless you know of another story like it.

The necklace links the mysterious Zeeka with Janet in a way she - and especially Raynor, are not happy about. It also leads into the best question ever asked of anyone in history (probably):-

"Did you know that he had a secret basement where the zombies were kept?"
- cop not expecting to ask this question, ever.

"My God! No! If there were zombies there I would not have gone there."
- Janet affected by the word 'zombie' causes her to spew 'there' several times. As you would.

Right on, lady, right on. Rule number one of surviving a zombie story, don't go to a place where they might convene en masse, playing cards, poker, eating human heads, that kind of thing.

Whilst not as gory / creepy as the first book, it is the better one because the story is more layered, developed and you can identify with the characters more. 

It ends satisfyingly, and we get a hint of what might be coming in book three.

Friday 18 March 2016

Book Review: To St Petersburg With Love by Mel Cormican



"To St Petersburg With Love" is a quirky travelogue that proves that life is often stranger - and more fun - than fiction. This is the tale of what happened when the author attempted to cycle around most of Northern Europe in 40 days.

The aim was that of a cycling purist: to cycle on all land between Southend and St Petersburg, and back. The trouble was with just weeks to go, he learned of someone who took 2 months to cycle one way from St Petersburg to London. Had he bitten off more than he could chew?

With his friend Craig, an impossibly tight schedule, visa and ship deadlines, bear fears, mishaps and good fortunes, they set off on a life changing adventure to see most of Northern Europe. This is the story of triumphs and tribulations, challenges and compromises, of battling against all the odds and learning to let go of the rules to live the adventure.

What began as an adventurous cycle to St Petersburg became a romantic story of love in Kaliningrad.

"Sometimes charity really hurts."

Sylvester Stallone, as Rocky Balboa, from Rocky III (1982)


Prior to 2003 I was an avid traveller. No sooner had I finished one trip, I would be off on another. Or planning another. Or thinking about it. Wherever I happened to be on the travel spectrum, I just wanted to be sampling another country as soon as I could.

Some places I loved so much that I visited them again and again. In Mel Cormican's excellent To St Petersburg with Love, we are taken on a two-wheeled journey (for the most part) and we see many European countries through Mel's eyes, but also through his co-cyclist Craig.

If you are a non-cyclist, you might think that there's not a lot on offer for you here. I for one found the book full of surprises and felt I was cycling along with Mel and Craig as they dodged European red tape, dodged cars on Russian motorways (it was a big road, who knew?) and dodged falling out with each other as they tried to reach their goal, for charity no less.

What might have turned out to be a dry diary is anything but. I suppose you would have to love travelling. I am huge fan of Michael Palin's BBC travelogues and like watching Michael Portillo's train journeys also. It's all about the unknown. Would Mel and Craig reach St Petersburg? Who would they meet along the way? What difficulties would they come up against?

Through another writer this project could have fallen on its face. It may have been well written, it may even pass as readable for an hour or two. But Mel Cormican is as engaging a writer as he is a determined cyclist. You really feel like you get to know Mel and Craig as you progress through the book.

The last third of the book takes a surprising turn that I did not see coming, and perhaps Mel didn't either. It rounds off an enriching tale that I would insist anyone would enjoy.

Craig smokes, Mel doesn't. One of my best friends is a Scot, and smokes like his life depends on it or paid by the tobacco companies to do so. It can be hard to deal with, though we all have our quirks. I felt that Mel coped with it well and Craig comes across as the perfect co-cyclist for the trip.

That's not all though. I like to read books that make me feel educated, and there's lots to pick up here - the beauty of the Polish language, for example. Mel includes many great phrases and even better than that, each new chapter that showcases a new country gives us the map and the route our two wheeled heroes are taking.

"Mel Cormican is as engaging a writer as he is a determined cyclist."

Add in a healthy smattering of photos taken with willing European locals (Latvia - I'm coming for you!) and you have an exciting read with a great heart at its core.

This is an accomplished work by a talented author. It takes a lot of determination to create a book. To do it based on this remarkable, life-changing bike journey is to be applauded.

Take a bow, Mel and Craig.

Sunday 13 March 2016

Book Review: Love Minuets by Preethi Venugopala


Synopsis: Is there another emotion that can compete with love? When you fall in love, it is the most magical thing you experience in your whole life. The person, who stirred this emotion in your heart all of a sudden acquires the power to make you his/her slave and you become ready to do anything to win his /her affections. 
Nothing matters anymore other than your lover. It is as if this magician called love has put you in a trance, all you hear are his commands, and you become a helpless puppet in his arms. Every thought like a homing pigeon returns to your lover and every moment you invent a reason to be near him/her. It is like a powerful potion, which has been absorbed by each and every cell of your body. If for some reason the magic ends, you find yourself drained out of the very substance that had fed your soul, and you wish that your heart ceased its rhythm. The beating of your own heart starts to hurt you. 
Many lives have perished after falling prey to this ruthless magician while many other lucky creatures have flourished and bloomed just because of its magic. 
Why do we become minions of this crazy little thing called love? 
Sometimes, this emotion is unconditional when it comes to love between parents and their kids, between friends and between siblings. 
Some cases some are in love with their passion. 
What else is Love other than Magic? 
I present to you, dear reader; 24 stories about this crazy little thing called Love. Though the focus is mainly on romantic love, there are also stories which talks about other facets of love. 
Hope you have a wonderful read. 

Review: Certain books can turn out to be quite deceiving, but I mean that in the most positive way I can, because Love Minuets initially seemed to be a musical book or some kind of poetry. Indeed it has a poetic quality to it that people fond of the the kind of imagery an accomplished author can make is the very reason why we read books in the first place.

The stories are short, diverse and very hard to predict in terms of content. But each and every one is enjoyable.

The Veil of Time, The Duke's Muse and Forgotten Memories were amongst my favourites. It is hard to pick an outright favourite because of the diverse stories on offer.

"I was surprised at the depth of many of the stories, contrasting with those that were lightweight and I believe intentionally so."

I believe with this collection that the author could reward her current fanbase whilst attracting new ones.

If you like fantasy, it's here. If you like heart warming and gentle tales of love, it's here. If you like to read something truly leftfield, it's here too.

I was surprised at the depth of many of the stories, contrasting with those that were lightweight and I believe intentionally so.

Often an author will want to write a true one of a kind book. I think this is the kind of thing we as readers look for.

Strongly recommended.

Sunday 6 March 2016

Book Review: The Third Servant by Michael Billington


Synopsis: The third servant, who did not enrich his master as two other servants had, was cast into the night for his failure to increase his master's wealth. Matthew tells us this in the famous parable in the Bible but he never tells us what happened to that unfortunate servant after that.
This is the story of that third servant, a young man, and his long journey through the ancient world. It's a journey that takes him throughout the Middle East, to the steppes of what is now Russia, into India where he grows to manhood, and from there along the ancient spice trail that once wound its way along the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. He travels through Egypt and, eventually to Rome where he hears of a young prophet named Jesus.
On his journey he meets fishermen, nomads, emperors, philosophers, warriors and traders. His is not an easy journey, however, and there are times when he must literally fight for his life if he is to continue on it.
This is a story of trial and of sacrifice, of lost faith and redemption.

"There is no honour in fighting a snake."

Review: No indeed. Michael Billington has certainly taken a well known Biblical story and made a principal character of Ezra here in the The Third Servant. Initially I was a little thrown at the length of the novel, and indeed it has taken me a long time to finish it. Whilst there are fast moving scenes it is certainly not a fast moving book, and it seems to me that was the author's intention all along.

The use of language, while grand enough and believable for the context and period in which it is placed starts to a grate a little after a while. Nonethless, Ezra behaves like an honourable man throughout the entire story. Given that he has some battles, disagreements and many epic confrontations along the way, I would say this is a very well drawn and rounded character. Had Ezra not been so believable it would have been difficult to stay the course for such a long book.

The cover is striking, hauntingly beautiful and instantly screamed 'epic', 'fantasy' and 'thrilling journey'. On each of these The Third Servant delivers. Ezra meets the pauper, the prince and all levels inbetween. His interactions with them, some go without incident, others blow up unexpectedly, again, making the journey we take with Ezra a fulfilling and deep read.

The Third Servant is a solid, rewarding tale, deserving of re-reads, and is the kind of book you should give attention to

This book is probably far better than the 4* rating I am giving it at this time. If anything, it is a provisional rating and I may give it the extra star as and when I re-read it, and the book is so well written it certainly deserves another read.

Yes, Ezra meets a number of notable Biblical characters along the way and this is entertaining in itself. Then the book ends a little abruptly for me which, given the amount of ground we have covered already, seemed a little surprising to me.

All in all, The Third Servant is a solid, rewarding tale, deserving of re-reads, and is the kind of book you should give attention to. A couple of pages in each session won't get you into the story. So give it your time and you will be rewarded with a sumptuous telling of a Biblical tale that is is done with so much style that the narrative develops quite the swagger as it reaches its final third.