Tuesday, May 22, 2018 21:07


October 30th, 2015

Written in the Scars by Mel SherrattAnother great book from Mel Sherratt — part of her ‘grit-lit’ series set in the Midlands of England, she looks at the lives of the people who live there. It follows the paths of several residents and the local housing officer: among them, a single mum and her two, very different adult children, a young carer and a shell-shocked ex-serviceman just trying to get his life back. The storylines are very different, yet they weave in and out effortlessly, tying these lives together with more than just their proximity on the estate. Lewis has been out of the army for a while, but he’s not adjusting to civilian life, the horrors of what he’s seen dogging his every step. Donna works at the local shop, while checking on her mother who has dementia, worrying about her lazy son and her hard-working daughter; not an ideal place to be meeting men, is it? Then she met Owen… Josie has been a housing officer on the estate for a number of years and knows the residents more intimately than she probably wants to.  Young Megan hides her scars, while doing her best to look after the people in her care, including Donna’s mother, not daring to hope for a relationship. This is the fourth book in the series, but you don’t need to have read the others to fill in the gaps (but you should go buy them now, they’re great!). I like Sherratt’s writing and she always pulls me into the story with minimal effort. Great characters and storylines. Go now and buy it! Amazon UK / Amazon US

Two novellas for the road

June 28th, 2013

I stumbled across Trent Zelazny’s writing last year sometime and have to say nothing I’ve read by this author has disappointed me yet.

Butterfly Poison by Trent ZelaznyHis characters are real. The way they talk is real. And it doesn’t hurt at all that he tells good stories. Okay, I may not always like where they go or what happens when we get there, but there’s no denying it: he can write.

Butterfly Potion

Waking up in a ditch sucks. It’s even worse when your wallet and phone have been lifted while you slept. I won’t lie to you, Zelazny’s writing feels personal — whether it is or it isn’t — it feels like he’s done most of the things he puts his characters through. And I guess that by ‘personal’ I mean ‘believable’, too. Nothing that the main character of this novella, Perry, does sounds far-fetched. He’s gone out, got drunk and then ends up out in the middle of nowhere, far from anywhere he’d normally go, but that’s just the beginning of his journey. I can’t stress enough how Zelazny’s writing makes me feel: he does a great job of pulling me into his tale and then leaves me there… desolate when it’s over.
Amazon US / Amazon UK

Found Money

Found Money by Trent ZelaznyA novella by Trent Zelazny, this one deals with a rather precise number: $3,087. Why that amount, you ask? Well, this story goes about filling in the gaps and making sure you want to go along for the ride. Nick’s lost his job and is getting desperate. But walking down the street one day, he finds an envelope just discarded on the sidewalk with $3,087 in it — a significant number to our hero. As I’ve said before about Zelazny’s writing, it sucks me in and drags me along for the ride — and I never feel like I’ve wasted my time. Each book or story I read by this guy just whets my appetite for more. Come on, $.77 isn’t going to break the bank…

Amazon US / Amazon UK

This Dark Earth by John Hornor Jacobs

October 5th, 2012

Not “just another zombie novel”

That was my worry, if I’m honest – like the Twi-hard copyists, there does seem to be a glut of zombie fiction out there at the moment. I’m not complaining and if it’s selling, good for them; whatever rubs your Buddha. And I’m not ruining the book for you by telling you this: there’s zombies in This Dark Earth – lots and lots of zombies.

This Dark Earth by John Hornor JacobsWhat I liked about John’s second book was that everything changes when the zombies arrive and yet, everything stays the same. Humans don’t change over night into a bunch of plucky Brits battling the Hun during the Blitz (and frankly, there were bad apples during the war, too) and helping each other survive. Okay, there will be some, but there’ll be the opportunists and exploiters who ooze out of the woodwork at the slightest provocation, working out the angles and the best way to make themselves kings amongst the debris of the former world.

I digress. Jacob’s second book centres around a young boy named Gus and his mother, Lucy, who’s a doctor. Gus is some kind of prodigy, with a brain seemingly uniquely adapted to coming up with ways to stay alive in a world where most of the population has turned into zombies. I’m also not giving away anything by saying he comes up with a unique idea for how to live without getting your brainz eaten by a zombie: build your new colony on a bridge. Or on the end of one. Seems like a good solution and John makes it work for him.

I enjoyed this book, in much the same way I enjoyed his last, Southern Godsif you haven’t read it, go buy it now – I took it on holiday and devoured it in a very short time. I like his characters and the way he develops them through the events happening in the book. It’s a subtle alchemy which I would love to emulate in my own work.

(And, if you haven’t worked it out yet, I’m hoping to get on his ARC list so I can read the books and tell you about them in advance!)

Go on, stuck for something to read? Like well-written alternative fiction? Go buy his book now.

Amazon US / Amazon UK

Too Late to Call Texas, by Trent Zelazny

September 21st, 2012

Sex, guns and rock and roll…

What would you do if you found a hat with a bullet hole in it? Run? Call the cops? Get back in your car and drive away?

Not Carson Halliday.

Too Late to Call Texas by Trent ZelaznyHe follows his nose out into the New Mexico desert and finds a body. Then he gets shot at. Time to go, wouldn’t you think? But no, he then finds a trunk in the back of a car, which he decides to keep. Bad idea.

Making bad decisions seem to be Carson’s forté – he’s capable of some very wrong-headed thinking and never seems quite certain what he’s doing next. This uncertainty does provide for some interesting plot twists and an exciting ride.

Zelazny’s writing is strong and descriptive, whether suggesting the smell of a fleabag motel or the strange habits and physiognomy of the motel clerk. The heat and scents of the desert come through in waves and the sense of place is almost overwhelming at times.

The story is very complex and gives me the feeling it’s been tightly plotted, centering around Carson, his wife Brittany and that damn trunk. It’s a good story and I found the characters likeable, albeit in a slightly anti-hero way.

Now for the warning: if you prefer warm stories about puppies and kittens which always have happy endings and you don’t like lots of bodies, swearing, sex, etc, this book isn’t for you.

If you like great, solid writing and a story that pulls you along, then go get this book. You should read it.

I’m off to get some more of his books…


You can pre-order Trent’s book on Amazon – it’s not released until Halloween

Amazon US / Amazon UK

Trent’s website is trentzelazny.com

Pentecost and Prophecy by J F Penn

August 23rd, 2012

Slow down, I want to get — wait, no I don’t…

One of my many criteria for books that I read for enjoyment is page-turn-ability, i.e. it makes me want to read it all in one go – I read the first two books in J.F. Penn’s ARKANE series both of them in succession, which say something!

Morgan Sierra is a kick-ass individual with Israeli Special Forces training. If you need the comparison, she falls somewhere between Indiana Jones and Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon, combining esoteric knowledge about religions and their psychology with the ability to take on the violent baddies on their own terms.

Pentecost. An ARKANE Thriller by J.F. PennIn Pentecost, Morgan is wrenched from her quiet practice in Oxford, Morgan and ruggedly handsome ARKANE agency operative Jake Timber are forced on a quest to find twelve stones taken from the tomb of Jesus Christ by the twelve apostles after Christ’s ascension into Heaven. Known as the “Pentecost stones”, the artifacts are alleged to contain great power on their own, even more when put together. And there are at least two camps willing to go to any lengths to obtain them.

Morgan and her sister have two of the stones, given to them by their parents and, in order to motivate Morgan to find the stones, her sister and niece are hostages in the grasp of a powerful man.

ARKANE is an academic research collective on the surface; as Morgan’s quest progresses, she finds it has an official mission to find dangerous religious artefacts to keep them falling into the wrong hands and the resources to match the mission.

As I said before, the pace of this first novel is just right, pushing things along while informing the reader at the same time. I’d say Penn knows what she’s talking about when it comes to religion and the way individuals can become obsessed with religious ideas and the way the world works. The characters are believable and I found myself rooting for the good guys almost immediately!

If anything, it all ended too quickly for me, but then, that might have been because I couldn’t put it down!

Following on from Pentecost, Prophecy takes us further into the dim and rather scary world of religious artefacts and the fanatics prepared to do anything to own these fragments of the past.

But in this case the bad guys, in the form of billionaire and megalomaniac Milan Noble and a shadowy organisation known only as “Thanatos” with their symbol of a white horse, are looking for something called The Devil’s Bible, in order to fulfill the prophecy in the book of Revelations that decrees a quarter of the world’s population has to die. It’s up to ARKANE agent Morgan and her partner, Jake to stop them.

Prophecy, an ARKANE thriller by J.F. PennHaving just finished Penn’s first book, Pentecost, Prophecy seemed to take a while to build up momentum. It’s not surprising, considering the weighty subjects she’s tackling here – how do you programme the human mind? But that could have just been the adrenaline hangover I had from the ending of the previous book.

Another thing I judge books by is their ability to make me feel something for the characters – i.e. do I care what happens to them? Penn succeeds, particularly when the action takes off. Oh yes, you care what happens to Morgan and Jake, make no doubt about it.

After these two accomplished novels, I’m looking forward to her new one, Exodus, due any day!

Would I recommend them? If you like your thrillers fast paced, sprinkled with historical facts, figures and tied into the modern day in the vein of Dan Brown, then yes, I’d recommend it. Go on, you know you want to!



You can get both books for Kindle: Pentecost Amazon US / Amazon UK and Prophecy Amazon US /Amazon UK – it’s also available for other readers, check her website for more information.

Empire State by Adam Christopher

June 29th, 2012

Two New Yorks and a lot of fun

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this first novel by Adam Christopher – but it had come highly recommended by a number of my writer friends, so I figured it was worth a look.

Centered around a world with two New Yorks, one shrouded in fog and forever battling an unseen Enemy with the austerity of ‘Wartime’ and another set in our world in 1950, with all the light, noise and people that inhabited the city in that time.

Empire State by Adam ChristopherThe Empire State, with its heart in one of the many correlations between the two, the Empire State Building, has retained the prohibition of alcohol and is only nineteen years old. Which is weird, because the people in it remember lives and events that predate those nineteen years.

Without giving too much away, the activities of two superheroes or supervillans (depending on who you talk to), known as the Skyguard and the Science Pirate, have had an impact in both versions of the Big Apple. Rad Bradley, private detective and frequenter of his local speakeasy, is caught up in various schemes and machinations and quickly finds himself out of his depth.

For a first novel, this has a polished feel and tells a great story. The interactions between the characters as well as the two New Yorks has been crafted with great care and it shows. In terms of storytelling, this is some of the best I’ve read for a long time and it’s got a great deal to recommend it. There’s the PI in the style of Sam Spade, superheroes, bootleggers, battle robots, airships and strange thugs in gas masks, set against the backdrop of the bleak Empire State and the vibrant New York of our world.

I enjoyed Christopher’s tale immensely and am looking forward to his next effort. You won’t be wasting your money by buying this one.

Get his book on Amazon UK / Amazon US – it’s also available in Kindle format.

Death by Sarcasm by Dani Amore

June 8th, 2012

Comedians run in the family…

Mary Cooper, sometime private investigator has a case she doesn’t really want: someone killed her comedian uncle, Brent Cooper, and soon starts targeting his old friends. So now Mary has to find out who’s behind it – before they kill her, too.

Death by Sarcasm by Dani AmoreDeath by Sarcasm is the second book by Dani that I’ve read and I have to say I like her style. Her main character Mary is a sarcastic bitch and not one you’d want to cross – tenacious doesn’t begin to describe her. And she inherited the family sense of humour. Which often gets her in trouble.

Dani’s one of those authors I hate because I often find myself finishing their books, due to the fast pace of the writing/reading, rather than working on my own. Okay, ‘hate’ is a strong word – it’s probably mostly envy, anyway.

So yes, this is a good read and Dani Amore is an author I’ll be keeping an eye out for. Go. Buy her books now. I’m going to look for more myself.

Amazon UK / Amazon US

The Survival of Thomas Ford by John A A Logan

May 25th, 2012

Gritty noir from north of the border

Thomas Ford is haunted. Okay, not in the literal sense.

Forced off a narrow road into a Scottish Loch, Thomas and his wife had mere moments to escape from their car as it filled with water. What haunts Thomas when he awakes from an almost seven week coma is he couldn’t get his wife out of the car. That, and the strange, bird-like profile of the other driver.

The Survival of Thomas Ford by John A A LongI found this a compelling read, wanting to know what happened next and reading it almost straight through without stopping. It’s a dark and broody novel, so if you’re looking for unicorns and puppies, I’d look elsewhere. How to pigeonhole it? Well, it’s part mystery, part drama as Thomas feels compelled to find the bird-like driver but doesn’t necessarily have to look that hard; it’s a cautionary ‘be careful what you wish for’ tale, but one with a punch. It feels like a lot of Noir I’m reading just now.

John has a superb eye for characterisation, creating believable people with real lives – one of the hardest tricks for a lot of authors and one he manages with ease. Having spent time in Scotland, I can almost recognise some of them. You don’t need to have been there to enjoy this book, though, as I think he’s conveyed the sense of place and time as well as his characters.

I already have said this is probably the best book I’ve read all year and after a few weeks’ reflection, I can’t say that opinion has changed. I admit to liking a lot of Scottish authors, but then I like a lot of French, Spanish, American, English, Japanese [add your favourite here], too, so I don’t think bias has anything to do with it. It’s not going to break the bank either, at £1.98/$3.11, although it’s only available on Kindle at the moment.

If you like your books realistic (well, mostly) and as a window into a world you’ve never seen, this is a great example. I’m off to read it again.


Amazon UK / Amazon US

Regional accents and hard men

April 19th, 2012

Wolf Tickets by Ray Banks*

Everything I read by Ray just makes me want to throw my computer out the window and give up writing. Dammit, the man can write! And Wolf Tickets is no different.

Wolf Tickets by Ray BanksI only feel like that for a minute, as Ray’s work inspires me after that moment of doubt.

According to Ray, the phrase ‘wolf tickets’ comes from a Tom Waits interview from Playboy in the late 80’s and describes someone who’s bad news. In a sentence it’d be something like “Don’t f**k with me, I’m passing out wolf tickets.” And yes, the two main characters in this book definitely fit the bill.

Set mostly in the Newcastle area, this tale revolves from the viewpoints of Sean Farrell and Jimmy Cobb, mates from their time in the Army, now coasting in the strange after-service life they both inhabit. In Dublin, Sean’s girlfriend Nora has stolen £20,000 from him and done a bunk to her old boyfriend Frank O’Brien in Newcastle. To say this pisses Sean off is an understatement.

So he hops a flight to Newkie and meets up with his old mate Jimmy, acquires a gun and they set off to hunt Nora.

I won’t spoil the story for you, as it’s a right good read. There’s plenty of ups and downs and while they’re violent, foul-mouthed thugs, the pair do somehow engender sympathy. I think Banks’ depictions of Newcastle fit well with my memories, revolving as they do around a lot of pubs, but he manages to capture the flavour of the place along with the characters one finds there.

Okay, enough from me. I’m off to read something else he’s written. Talented sod.

*If you’re offended by bad language or graphic violence, this isn’t one for you. Go read something by that nice Jeffrey Archer.

Zero Sum Trilogy by Russell Blake

March 14th, 2012

A timely Wall Street thriller

I ‘met’ Russell via the medium of Twitter and downloaded the first part of the Zero Sum Trilogy for free during one of his promos. I had no idea what I was getting into!

Zero Sum Trilogy by Russell BlakeQuick intro: our hero, Dr Stephen Archer, spots strange behaviour around a particular companies stock – sudden announcements, followed by a share price rise and a flood of stock sales. Known as ‘pump and dump’, this practice is supposed to be illegal, but it’s obviously not illegal enough.

So Stephen decides to unmask the company and the investment fund behind the artificial share price rises and sets up a whistle-blowing website. Unbeknownst to him, investors in the group include the Mafia and the CIA. And, while he’s careful, he’s not careful enough and they track him down. This is just the beginning of the story which sees him do his best to drop off the grid and go on a global adventure without getting anyone killed, while doing his best to expose the whole thing.

I found the story very readable – meaning I got sucked in and had to know what happened. It’s a scary look at the people who manipulate the stock market to their own ends and, in light of the financial disaster of the last few years, a bit worrying. The characters were believable (for the most part) and were appealing enough to gain my empathy.

The only annoyance I had was the fact Russell made this a trilogy; it didn’t feel like a trilogy to me, more like a book that had been broken into three parts (and I bought the last two parts). Perhaps that’s why it’s now available as a single Kindle volume.

Still it’s an entertaining read and worth a look, if only to see how market forces can be manipulated to the benefit of a few and the detriment of the rest.


You can find Russell’s blog at www.russellblake.com . And you can get Zero Sum for Kindle at Amazon UK / Amazon US .