Sunday 27 December 2015

Thoughts after reading 'Nineteen Nuns On The Number 15 Bus - The Southend Zombie Apocalypse'

 Earlier this week I had several adverts on my Facebook page for 'Nineteen Nuns On The Number 15 Bus - The Southend Zombie Apocalypse' by Simon G Gosden. I was in the mood for some ZA fiction so decided to give it a go - it was only 99p so what's to lose. A lot as it turns out.

 This has turned out to be one of the worst produced books it has been my misfortune to read, which is a shame as the story itself has a lot of promise. What lets it down is the fact there is no sign of an editor or proof reader having been anywhere near it (and if it has been edited and proofed those responsible should hang their heads in shame). There are errors on practically every page and even for 99p this is unacceptable.

 Several points to remember when you are writing or have completed your book (or whatever you are producing - even if it is only a leaflet)

     1) Always get someone else to look at it - there is more chance of fresh eyes spotting an error.

     2) If you are going to use big words at least make sure you use the right ones - and yes, that happened in this book.

     3) If you don't know Formatting then get someone else to either do it for you or show you how - your book will be more appealing if it is set out well.

 'Nineteen Nuns...' is a terrible example of how a book should be published (or an excellent example of how to get it so, so wrong!) It reads very much as if the author just wrote the story and pressed 'publish' which is a shame because it could have been a decent little book with the right amount of care and attention.

 I believe 'Nineteen Nuns....' is to be republished in 2016 with a full professional edit so I will look out for it then and give it another go - hopefully it will be readable by then.

 Oh, and I've looked on Amazon - it has 4 reviews, and each one (including one by a Mr Simon Gosden - remember that name from earlier??) is a 5 star review, full of praise and with no mention of the countless errors. So I guess that leads me to point number

      4) If you are going to give your book a 5 star book and glowing reviews at least make sure your work is worth it. A self appointed 5 star review of a mess of a book will do you no favours whatsoever.

 It's your book, you put all that work into it so do what you need to to make it the best damn book you can. It'll be worth it in the long run

Sunday 20 December 2015

Escape From B-Movie Hell by M T McGuire - a review

When Art Restoration student Andi Turbot hears voices in her head you would think the day couldn't get any weirder.........then she finds out her best friend Eric is a 7ft tall lobster shaped alien and the future of our world is at stake.

This book, as hinted at in the title, is very much in the style of B-Movies and, as such, is a whole lot of fun - so much so, in fact, that I got through this in 2 days (which was disappointing, in a good way, as I would have happily spent a lot longer in this universe). The rich cast of characters and non stop dashing about keep the reader engaged (to be fair books like this can lose pace and attenton in the middle ground) all the way through.

I'm certainly glad I decided to pick this up and give it a go, and I'll also be looking out for more from this author

A good, fun comedy space romp, more please

4/5 stars

Thursday 17 December 2015

Across The Terminator by David Tallerman

Two bases on the moon, one American and one Chinese while back on Earth these two countries are locked in a Cold War. Due to the way of things on Earth the two moon bases are not in contact at all. A scientific discovery by the Americans though could be about to change that as they need the help of the Chinese astronauts and scientists.

This is a very short story but, for all that, there is a good bit of story in it. Mr Tallerman does a really good job of bringing the characters to life, making me bothered about how things would work out for them and wanting to know more about events after the story.

One phrase in the book that summed it up for me was 'Science should be bigger than borders'. These people are a long way from home, should they class each other as enemies just because their respective countries tell them to?

Highly Recommended (even though it is short)

The Keeper by Catriona King - A Review

 The Keeper is the latest in Catriona King's series featuring Marc Craig and his Belfast Murder Squad. In my opinion it is one of the best so far (and I've been hooked on this series since book 1).

 The crime this time around is the murder of three people with links back to the bad days of 'The Troubles'. It's not an easy one for the squad to solve as the victims are not all from the same side so it is unclear what, exactly, the motives are and who could be responsible.........and who will be next.

 As usual with this series what makes it stand out are the characters. These have grown with each book yet their manners and characteristics have managed to avoid them becoming parodies of themselves. With 'The Keeper' though, upheaval is coming for the squad. Chickens come home to roost as events from previous books come to a head and not everyone will escape unscathed.

 Things may change for the members of  Marc Craig's squad but one thing that doesn't change is the quality of the writing and the storytelling. Catriona King has done it again. Bring on the next one.


Wednesday 9 December 2015

Voices of the Damned by Barbie Wilde - A Review

Last year I had the pleasure of meeting Barbie Wilde and being given the chance to review her novel 'The Venus Complex'.  I really enjoyed TVC so when I heard there was going to be a collection of her short horror fiction published I jumped at the chance to read it.

What we have here is a mixed bag of scares, each one a delectable treat. I read in a picky fashion, a story every few days with a break between - as with the best of feasts you don't want to gorge yourself, you take bites and savour them.

Barbie Wilde is well known in Horror circles for her role as 'female cenobite' in the second Hellraiser film and that character, Sister Cilice, is the starting point for these stories (the first of three stories that feature her). Sister Cilice is what amounts to an origin story telling of how she went from being a nun to becoming one of Hell's finest. Her story is told, as I said, over three tales, all are good but this is the strongest. The rest of the collection features such joys as Zulu Zombies, Sexual Vampires, Gods, Demons, Body Horror and the locked door in the corner of the basement (in Botophobia, one of my favourites). Through it all Barbie Wilde keeps you looking over your shoulder, listening for the creak of a floorboard or the tinkle of little bells that may just bring horrors beyond your wildest imaginings.

These tales are not for the faint hearted, the horror and violence is graphic as is the erotic element to the stories (but all relevant, not just for titillation). Each story is also accompanied by some lovely (though gruesome) art which shows well on my Kindle Fire, with its' colour screen.

This collection is heartily recommended so prepare to step into the bizarre, horrific, twisted imagination of one of the nicest ladies you could ever hope to meet

 5/5 Stars

Thursday 3 December 2015

Heir To The North by Steven Poore - a review

The Heir To The North is the first novel by Steven Poore but to read it you'd think he's been doing this for years. HttN is Epic Fantasy of the highest standard.

The general gist of the story is the usual descendant of displaced royalty/evil warlock/prophecy fare that much of the fantasy genre uses but is a whole different level to a lot of what is out there today. Several hundred years ago the Warlock Malessar pulled the castle of Caenthell apart stone by stone, the only survivors being the soldier Baum and the baby son of the High King, his only Descendant.

Move forward to 'now' and we meet the travelling story teller Norrow (a truly horrible specimen of humanity) and his daughter Cassia, who also has hopes of becoming a story teller one day. In the town Keskor they meet up with a grizzled old soldier and a 'princeling' who are planning to restore the North and defeat Malessar's curse (Caenthell will stay buried and The North will not rise again until I freely offer my sword to a true descendant of the High Kings-or one takes it from my dying hands). Norrow and Cassia, as Storytellers, go with Baum and Meredith (the aforementioned Princeling) on their quest to record events and to have a new tale to tell.

Things are not all as they seem though. There is a good bit of twisting and turning as the tale goes on - and the end really pulled the rug out from under my feet. Things are nicely set up for the second (and concluding) volume in the series.

What really stood out for me was the way the world was brought to life as the characters moved through it. The history was mostly revealed through stories told, and a very rich history it is too.
I thought right from the start that this book was a bit special - sometimes you just get that tingle other books don't give you - and I wasn't wrong. It brought to mind the first time I picked up he works of Eddings and Robert Jordan and, in my opinion, is good enough to stand side by side with them.

With exemplary storytelling set in a richly developed world Steven Poore has become one to watch.


Guest Post by Simon Bestwick

Today I'm happy to have a guest on the blog, Mr Simon Bestwick, author of (among other things) the Black Mountain series, The Faceless and  new novel Hell's Ditch.

Simon's post today is on writing strong characters in fiction.


Casting Couch: Some thoughts on characterisation [Thursday 3rd December]

Caveat: This is what has worked for me: it may, or may not, work for you. Every writer needs to find the methods that works for them.
Having said all that, here are a few pointers picked up by trial and error (mostly error) over the years on the subject of writing characters who come alive on the page.
1) Everyone’s A Star
In the movies, there are lead characters, supporting characters, bit players and spear-carriers. Life, however, isn’t like that.
Everyone’s the star of their own movie: the story is about them. You don’t exist to help or hinder someone else in achieving their goals; you have your own goals and you’re in pursuit of them. Each and every character has his or her own story, their own journey. What that is, and how that intersects with that of other characters, to help or to hinder them, is for you to determine. So how do you do that?
2) Play All The Parts
Every actor asks what their character wants, what they seek to achieve over the course of the story, whether they get it or not. Every action, every line of dialogue, is directed towards achieving that goal. That’s as true of creating characters on the page as it is of playing them on stage. The difference is that you have to play all the parts, not just one.
So when minor Character B helps major Character A to achieve her goal, how does that relate to his own? Does it help him achieve it? Or is there a conflict; does he delay his own progress because he can’t turn away from someone who needs help? Only you can answer that, either by planning or by winging it. I’m in the latter camp, but no one way is right or wrong; it’s a case of finding what suits you.
But if you can answer the question, ‘what do you want?’, for your characters, they’ll be easier to write and your scenes will be more alive.
3) The Casting Couch
I tend to work in a visual way; it’s easier to write a scene if I can picture it. With your characters, that means putting a face to the name.
One way of doing that is actors: the more films, TV or theatre productions you see, the more choices you have.
Another is people you know. That can be dicey, depending on what you write; an erotica writer I know would never do so, as she regards it as unethical and intrusive. If you write horror or crime, on the other hand, people often ask you to kill them off!
Hell’s Ditch, my latest novel, started life as a radio play. Helen was based on the actress who’d have played the part. Gevaudan, on the other hand, was more of a composite of Antonio Banderas in Desperado and the late metal singer Pete Steele; he isn’t quite one or the other, but where the two of them blur together, I can see him.
Another method is people-watching. Two of my short stories, ‘Dermot’ and ‘Night Templar’, were inspired by watching, respectively, a guy on a bus and a taxi driver getting out of his car. In each case, the character came first, then the story.
Know what they want and you have the inner man or woman. Know what they look like and you have the outer one. Put those together and your character starts coming to life.
4) Vital Statistics
List your various characters’ details: name, age, hair and eye colour, who they look like, and any biographical information that comes up as you write – likes and dislikes, favourite foods, what they like to drink. It’s much easier than downing tools to comb through what you’ve already written in search of one detail. You wouldn’t believe how often work’s ground to a halt while I tried to remember if X had blue eyes or green.
5) Tells and Tics
Poker relies on bluffing – not giving away excitement at a good hand, or trepidation at a weak one. Good players learn to spot their opponent’s ‘tell’; a mannerism they employ when they bluff. In the film Casino Royale, Le Chiffre’s is rubbing the corner of his eye.
We all have tells and tics – little things we do when we’re angry, afraid, amused, happy or sad. Some people wear their hearts on their sleeve; some hide their feelings completely. Most are somewhere in between. What does your character do?
We all have mannerisms, gestures, idiosyncracies of speech. Start paying attention to others and you’ll see – and hear – them. Do all this, and you’ll be on your way to creating characters who get off the casting couch – and into your readers’ heads.

Simon Bestwick is the author of Tide Of Souls, The Faceless and Black Mountain. His short fiction has appeared in Black Static and Best Horror Of The Year, and been collected in A Hazy Shade Of Winter, Pictures Of The Dark, Let’s Drink To The Dead and The Condemned. His new novel, Hell’s Ditch, is out now.

Tuesday 24 November 2015

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlepig by Tad Williams

Bobby Dollar, aka The Angel Doloriel is not your idea of a typical angel. Think less flowing robes and shiny halo, more a tooled up wiseguy in a noir-ish setting you’d be more on the right track. Don’t be mistaken though, Dollar is certainly one of the good guys.
This novella, a Christmas story, was released last year and certainly feels very seasonal. If you haven’t read Williams’ Bobby Dollar series (The Dirty Streets of Heaven, Happy Hour in Hell, Sleeping Late on Judgement Day) there aren’t any real spoilers here ( but then, if you haven’t read the BD books you’re missing a treat)
So, to the story……..
It is Christmas Eve and Bobby Dollar is called to be advocate for the soul of Petar Vesic who has just died in hospital at the ripe old age of 98. That is what BD does – when a person passes over an advocate for Heaven and one for Hell vie for the soul of the deceased in a mini-court type scenario. Thing is Petar Vesic has not been a good person, he is acceptant of the fact he is going to Hell but he has a favour to ask……”save my Grandson”.
In short Bobby is given until sunrise on Christmas Day so it is a race against time for him and George the Werepig and, as you would expect, there are scrapes and surprises along the way
I’ll be the first to admit I’m a big fan of Tad Williams work, have been since discovering The Dragonbone Chair back in the late 1980’s. Usually his books are big sprawling epics but he does the smaller stuff well also (check out his books of short stories if you get chance). As a novella ‘Gentlepig’ certainly ranks as short but there is a heck of a lot of story in there. Normally this would be enough to guarantee a 4.5 or 5 star review but……………
Where this novella falls down slightly for me is that it really could have done with an extra proof read before publication. It’s nothing major, just little niggles that most people would overlook or ignore but being an editor and proof reader I cannot let these pass without mention.
So, in short, a thoroughly enjoyable Christmas short that could have done with an extra proof check

4/5 stars

Thursday 29 October 2015

Dead Leaves by Andrew David Barker - a review

Last year's 'The Electric' by Andrew David Barker (previously reviewed on this blog) was a love letter to cinema and growing up in the 1980's. 'Dead Leaves' does much the same thing for Video Nasties - and does a grand job of it.

It is 1983 and to Scott Bradley, just out of school, on the dole and heading for a life of factory drudgery and his friends Paul and Mark Horror Videos are the be all and all of everything. Nothing much else matters other than getting to see the next Nasty. To them, what really matters is getting hold of The Holy Grail of Video Nasties - The Evil Dead. This is a world of pokey little video shops and dodgy dealers in a time when the clampdown on Horror Videos was in full swing.

This novella is also a story of friendship, of family and of growing up. Scott's dad wants him to get a job, constantly getting at him to fill in application forms for mundane (in Scott's mind) jobs when what he really wants is to go to film school. Anyone reading this book who was around at the time it is set will, as with 'The Electric' be taken back to a time when films weren't available 24/7. A time when you borrowed a film from the local video shop and had it for 1 day before returning it.

The friends have a plan to make money - there is a chance to get a copy of The Evil Dead so they can make copies themselves and sell them on. The only real problem is that they need to find £60 to buy their copy (remember, this is 1983)

Barker does a really good job of transporting the reader back to the early 80's (I was the same age as Scott in 1983 so I guess I know what I'm talking about) and his love of film shows through in what turns out to be another excellent story. I was looking forward to Dead Leaves from the moment I heard of it and it certainly lived up to my expectations. Now I can look forward to whatever Andrew David Barker comes up with next in the sure knowledge it will be well worth the wait.


Tuesday 27 October 2015

Mister Fox The Legend by Sue Vincent and Stuart France - a review

Every year for the past four or five years myself, my partner and some friends have made our way out, once a year to The Wagon and Horses pub at Langsett, on the borders of Sheffield and Barnsley for The Night of the Hunter's Moon. An evening of entertainment and storytelling in the form of music and traditional dance on the grassy area outside the pub.

Let me set the scene..........

It is a cold and slightly damp evening in Langsett but the crowds are gathered never the less. As the evening goes on there is the murmur of chattering voices and an air of anticipation. We are stood at the back (always the best place to see the beginning.

As 8:30 approaches people are getting a bit more excited, it won't be long now........


There in the gap through the trees a torch is lit (a fiery brand, not a battery powered one), a drum beat sounds in the distance and pipes start their wailing........

It begins, Night of the Hunter's Moon 2015 is under way.

It begins with what is, in a way, a parade to the pub grounds. People in capes and fox masks capering around in a torch lit procession. There is also a figure in cape and crow mask.

On arrival at the pub grounds the foxes and the crow perform a series of dances accompanied by drums, flutes, pipes and fire.......there is always lots of fire. The dances (and the dancers) tell a story that finishes with fireworks and all retire to the warm and welcoming embrace of the Waggon and Horses bar. Through the night people will play tunes on the instruments they have brought with them, friends and strangers alike. A good time is had by all.

As I say, I have been going for the last four or five years, it is something I start looking forward to from late summer onwards. The one thing I have always thought though, is I wish there was some way of finding out what the story enacted by the foxes and the crow is. So, imagine my joy when, on passing through the bar area I bumped into Sue Vincent and Stuart France who were selling copies of their Graphic Novel 'Mister Fox The Legend' a lovely book that goes a long way towards doing just that. It covers who (or what!) is Mister Fox, the legend of the Red Book of Langsett and the stories of some of the dances. The illustrations are lovely, especially the ones of the dances which well convey the fire and smokiness of the night.

I will be the first to admit I am a sucker for local legends and storytelling and this book had me from page 1. It is also one that will be got out every year before we set off  for Night of the Hunter's Moon. More than that though, it makes me want to find out more about Langsett and the surrounding villages. I feel there are a lot more stories to be told here.

I left the pub this year, book in hand, feeling I was a little more appreciative of what was happening this night and richer in the knowledge gained from stories read.

As an added bonus I was able to get the book signed by the authors.

I would like to thank the authors and the publisher, Silent Eye Press, for putting this book together and making things just that little bit clearer

10/10 stars

For anyone interested there are some photographs and short videos from this year's Night of the Hunter's Moon on my Facebook page

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Katerina by Erik Hofstatter - a review

This is a strange one to review. Katerina is billed as Erotic Horror but apart from odd moments I didn't particularly find it either erotic or horrific. The general gist of the story is that Karim, a medieval weapons collector living in Prague picks up a prostitute who turns out to have issues that are strange, to say the least and needs to find out more.

The fact that Karim has a huge dislike for prostitutes looms large over their 'relationship' but he cares enough to try and find out what is going on with her. And that is where the story has it's real strength - two believable characters that really drive the story. It's only short but there's enough to keep me intrigued.

The resolution of the story wasn't quite what I was expecting and could have possibly been a bit longer but still, that's just my opinion.

What I really took from this is the feeling that Hofstatter can really tell a good, character driven story and could benefit from trying to place books outside the Erotic Horror zone. He's certainly one to watch


Monday 5 October 2015

C90 by James Josiah - a review

C90 is a tale of 2 mix tapes but also a tale of minor obsession and desperation, a tale of two sides.

When we first meet Ben in 1995 he is just on the verge of leaving school, taking exams and is making a mix tape for the probably unattainable Becky (who has decided to change it to Becki). There is hope here, he thinks the tape, the choice of song (and there are some crackers on it) will tell her how he feels. There is a lot of thought goes into the music and you do get a good feeling for the character of Ben. The thing is, and I mean this in the nicest possible way, at this point in his life (like many boys his age, myself included) he's a bit of a muppet. There were points in the story where I just wanted him to see the obvious before it's too late

And then we move on to 1999.

The Ben we meet here is now working in a factory, in a job he hates, and playing occasional gigs in a band. The mix tape this time is now for a car journey to next weeks gig. The music this time is from the metal end of the spectrum so not many songs I know but the same amount of care and concentration goes into putting it together.

This Ben has had problems with alcohol in the years since we left 'young Ben' but is now trying to stay clean.

 Overhanging this half of the story is the death in a motoring accident of a friend of Ben's and the upcoming funeral. There is a sense of loss to it and sometimes of futility but also a feeling that things may work out eventually.

At 68 pages this is only a short tale but it felt a lot more than that. There is depth to it that leaves me wanting to know more. Will Ben succeed in life, will there be more mix tapes, will he finally give Becky (yes, she's still around and seems to have gone back to spelling her name the old way) the mix tape she deserves?

C90 - a tale of love, loss and bangin' tunes


Tuesday 29 September 2015

Always A Dancer and other stories by Steve Lockley (a review)

Always A Dancer is a very good bunch of short stories that covers all bases in what I would want from a ghost story/horror collection. What made me pick it up in the first place? Three things

     1) I'd not read anything by this author before and I like to try something new

     2) It's by Fox Spirit Books who I always trust as a quality publisher

     3) The cover art (really liked this imagery that goes with the title story)

As for the stories, not a bad one among them but several stuck in my mind more than others. Among these;

     Always A Dancer - the title story and something of a supernatural, other-worldly tale. The kind of story that makes you wonder what is happening but the ending, when it came, was a thing of completion and, I guess, beauty in it's own way.

      Funny Weather - The next story after Always A Dancer, this was a totally different change of tack. A tale of remembered youth with creepy gypsies, the kind I guess people of my age remember. A good sense of underlying nervousness ran through this. Not a comfortable read

     Wassailing - A very 'English' tale suited to a cold winters night by the fire. Basically 'what happens when a townie buys a house in a small English village and wants to fit in. A very creepy tale and possibly my favourite.

    The Last Frost - Another turn of pace and style with this Ghost Story. I didn't see the ending coming but when it did it very much felt right.

    Imaginary Friends - Just because we all secretly love a Creepy Clown story - and Mr Bobo, for me ranks up there with Pennywise and the Killer Klowns From Outer Space. And again the ending really caught me out.

As I said, these were the stand out stories for me but the others were all of a good and decent standing. A quality collection and I will certainly be looking out for more from this author.

Just what the Autumnal evenings need                                                                                9/10

Monday 21 September 2015

Caledonia by Amy Hoff - A Review

Police Officer Leah Bishop is not in a good place in her life until the morning she wakes, hung over once again, to a knock on her door. The messenger on her doorstep gives her a letter/job proposition from Caledonia Interpol. In no time at all she is leaving Edinburgh and heading to a new life in Glasgow...........and 'new life' could be the understatement of the decade.
On arrival in Glasgow she is met by Detective Inspector Dorian Grey (yeah, THE Dorian Grey in all his Victorian finery) and he introduces her to Caledonia Interpol, the equivalent of the Faerie Police. They need her help as both a Police Officer and as something of an expert in Scottish Folklore. There is a serial killer murdering Faeries and they believe it is a human.

Caledonia Interpol is full of creatures from Scottish Myth and Folklore but don't be put off by the mention of Faeries - these are certainly not Tinkerbell and co.

The Glasgow of 'Caledonia' is the gritty, dark underside, the seedy bars, the characters a mix of the fantastical and the local 'neds' but the mix works well. Leah fits into the team fairly quickly but still has moments when it is obvious she is slightly blown away by meeting what she thought were just the stuff of stories.

So, in short - a police procedural with Faeries and Monsters but when you get into it, it is a lot more than that. This is a story that draws you in, that leaves you wanting more* and that makes you want to believe. There is a quote on the front that  "Fans of Neil Gaiman, Gail Carriger or Nicole Peelerwill want to take notice...." and, while I am not familiar with the works of Carriger or Peeler, I would certainly compare it favourably to Gaiman's 'Neverwhere'.

Highly Recommended


* Caledonia is also an online series, links below

Sunday 20 September 2015

A Prospect Of War (An Age Of Discord Novel Book 1) by Ian Sales - a review

This is how I like my Space Opera!!!

A universe in the depths of civil war, a shady bad guy threatening the throne and a 'low born' hero Casimir Ormuz who just might be the one to save the day.......yup, I'll have me some of that.

I'll be the first to admit I worried this book may be a bit too heavy going for me (Ian's Apollo Quartet books I found very 'tech heavy' but manageable as they were novella length - aPoW is a whopping 650 pages). I was wrong to worry. Although this is a bit of a slow starter once the pace picks up this novel fair rattles along. Plenty of swashbuckling action and heroics make this a hell of a ride for the reader once you're into the flow of the story.

One thing I got from this book is that Ian Sales certainly knows his stuff when it comes to Sci-fi and Sci-Fi technology but doesn't feel the need to prove to the reader how clever he is. There is plenty of futuristic tech type stuff, sure, but also a colonial feel to it as well. The fighting isn't all done with Super-Massive Photon Cannons and lasers that can decimate a small town in seconds. Here our heroes get down and dirty with hand-to-hand style combat.

The World Building works for me too. I like a Universe that feels believable and that is certainly the case here. When I was 10 I remember my mum taking me to the cinema to see Star Wars for the first time. This book was the literary equivalent, to me, of that. Starts off steady and grows into something that's just a bit more than special.


Wednesday 16 September 2015

Today's Postal Delivery from Pigeon Park Press

Earlier this year I got up the courage to go to my first Convention type event - Edge-Lit 4 at the Quad in Derby. I'm glad I did too, it was a great day out, met lots of people I'd only met online before and lots of people were met for the first time too. (As an added bonus I came away with a backpack full of books - but people who know me would say that would have been a given anyway).

Among the many new friends met that day were Heide Goody and Iain Grant, owners of Pigeon Park Press and co-authors of the Clovenhoof series. These books hooked me from the off, the back blurb made me chuckle (and I do like a good chuckle) and the stories sounded like fun. My thoughts, initially, were 'this could be very much like Tom Holt in style' and I was not wrong. (The first of the books 'Clovenhoof' is reviewed a few posts back on this blogsite).

Add to this that Heide and Iain came across as really pleasant people (again, I wasn't wrong), their table had sweets and I got a Pigeon Park Press pen - good times.

A few weeks ago they contacted me and asked if I would be interested in reviewing the 4th book in the series, Hellzapoppin' - I didn't need to be asked twice. The book has Hellzapopped through my letterbox this morning (with a fun looking little card game based on the characters too), and very nice it looks too.

From the back

   "The fourth novel in the Clovenhoof series, Hellzapoppin' is an astonishing comedy featuring    suicidal sea birds, deadly plagues, exploding barbecues, dancing rats, magical wardrobes, King Arthurs American Descendants, mole-hunting monks, demonic possession and way too much seaweed beer."

So, if you are looking for a good chuckle and a good story all in one place look up Heide, Iain and Pigeon Park Press

Tuesday 15 September 2015

Let's Give Female Fantasy Writers The Recognition They Deserve

This may be a short post, it may not, it is being written on the fly so please bear with me. The reason is quite simple. I do not feel female writers of fantasy fiction are being given the recognition they deserve and that needs to change.

Over the years female authors (and I'm just sticking the fantasy genre here) have had to resort to such things as just using their initials (J V Jones for example) or adopting a non-gender specific name (Robin Hobb). Now, I understand this may have been the authors choice but my point is, it comes over as if the publishing world is saying "These books would sell more copies if buyers/readers thought the author was a bloke."

Well, I call Bullshit, on that. When I first read Robin Hobb's Farseer books my first thoughts were not 'a bloke wrote this' or 'a woman wrote this, but 'bloody hell, this is a good book'. I found out later that Robin Hobb was a pseudonym for Megan Lindholm and it made not one bit of difference whatsoever. Still a brilliant series whatever the gender of the author.

When you go in a bookstore, have a look at the display tables in the fantasy section, you'll more than likely find the majority of the authors on there are male. Female authors need a bigger push in bookstores - they write some bloody good stuff.

My question to you, I guess, would be "are you more likely to pick up a book by a male or female author when you go to a bookstore for a random book?" Or does it not matter?

And my challenge to you, for October, is to give some of your reading time to a female author, preferably not one of the 'bigger' names but, hey, your choice. (And post a review - don't forget that).

Do you have a favourite female Fantasy Fiction author? If so, tell me who, and while you're at it, tell everyone else too. If you are an authoress of Fantasy Fiction, feel free to get in touch, post on here if you wish.

My final word - they say never judge a book by it's cover, I say never judge it by the authors' gender either. Judge it by the quality of the writing and the storytelling. You might just get a surprise.

Thursday 10 September 2015

Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell

In a little village in the heart of the English countryside a supermarket chain is planning to open a new store. The locals are divided, some want it, some don't. What very few of them realise is that their is a much deeper, darker threat to them all than a few local stores closing down. It is up to three locals to save the village (and possibly the world!) but can they put their differences aside and work together?

Witches of Lychford is urban fantasy moved out to the countryside (so maybe Rural Fantasy - hey, maybe we've just started a whole new genre!!). It isn't a long story but also doesn't feel novella like in size. The main characters each have their moments and enough time for some backstory and development. All in all Paul Cornell has done a grand job here. If I had to make comparisons I'd say it's in the same league as Charles de Lint at his best. An ideal  book for a cold Autumn night.

I really, really hope that Mr. Cornell will take us all back to Lychford sometime soon, there are more stories to be told, I'm sure

8.5/10 stars

Sorceror To The Crown by Zen Cho - a review

Magic in Regency England - sound a familiar setting? If you are a fan of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell then you really need to get your hands on a copy of this.

Zacharius Wythe is England's Sorcerer Royal, the leader of the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, but at a time when magic levels are failing and the Fairie Realm is blocking supplies his is not a good position to be in. Add to all this the fact that he is African, may or may not have killed his mentor and has a faction of The Society plotting against, certainly not a good time to be Zacharius Wythe.

All is not lost though as, while visiting a school where girls are being taught how to 'not practice' magic (magic at this time solely to be used by men) he meets Prunella, an orphan who may just have discovered the greatest thing to happen to magic for hundreds of years. All they have to do is face racism, sexism, plots and hostility around every corner and all will be well with the world but if they team up and work together, well, you never know, they might just do it.

At the time I started reading this book our book club (Waterstones Fantasy and Sci-Fi book club, Orchard Square, Sheffield, 1st Thursday of every month) decided that this month's book would be Strange and Norrell so I decided to read both books at the same time, a compare and contrast if you like. I'm glad I did as Sorcerer To The Crown is a much better book than S and N. I wouldn't say the characters in Sorcerer are nicer, more not as horrible and certainly more believable. The London of Sorcerer is much more London-like and Fairy Land and it's inhabitants - well, they were an absolute joy. I guess the big difference for me between Sorcerer and S and N is the writing. I always thought Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell felt like it was written in the style of the time it was set which made it difficult to get on with at times, Sorcerer To The Crown has a much clearer prose style.

According to the author bio this is Zen Cho's first novel - I certainly look forward to reading more from her


Monday 31 August 2015

The Black Country by Kerry Hadley-Pryce (Salt Publishing) - A review

Maddie and Harry are a couple, but right from the off you get the idea they are only a couple 'for the sake of it'. Neither are particularly likeable - and that works well for this creepy, quite unsettling at times, novel. The general gist of the story is that Maddie (an estate agent) and Harry (a teacher) attend a party where they meet Jonathon Cotard. He seems a much better prospect to Maddie (he's basically everything Harry isn't). As they drive away from the party Maddie and Harry argue, lose control of the car and hit someone. It's not really a spoiler to say that someone is Cotard. In a panic they flee the scene.

And that is where the story really picks up.

The story is told by an untold figure (for the sake of this review I shall call this person The Narrator). It could be anyone but is obviously someone who knows both the lead characters. The Narrator guides you through events, leaving you feeling like a helpless watcher as the lives of Maddie and Harry, both past and present are revealed and unravelled. You watch as past events catch up and tangle up with the mess that is their present situation and you keep on watching, despite how uncomfortable it may make you feel. You may put the book down for a while but you'll be back before too long. You'll want to keep on watching.

I found this to be an intriguing tale right from the off. I like a good mystery, trying to work things out before the end. The Black Country had me guessing right up to the reveal more or less. The characters of Maddie and Harry worked well - they were not nice people to start with and their development throughout the story didn't make them any better but the bickering and sniping made them quite real. The real star though is The Narrator, a character who could be anybody (you'll probably change your mind a few times, just like I did), who can, with just a few words, throw your ideas and expectations as to where events are leading straight out the window.

This is an addictive book that deserves to be up there with the likes of Gone Girl and Girl On The Train it's as good, if not better, than both. A dark and unsettling read that leaves you feeling like a voyeur of a car crash relationship (where you wouldn't look away even if you could), I really enjoyed it - 9/10 stars

Monday 24 August 2015

Biblia Longcrofta by Simon Marshall-Jones - a review

There are many places in fiction that stay with the reader long after the story is finished - Gormenghast Castle, The Shire, Narnia and suchlike. Well, you're going to be adding Longcroft to that list in the very near future, a remarkable creation from Simon Marshall-Jones (SMJ). Longcroft is a city that may well exist in a parallel universe (there is an explanation of just where it is and how it works but I'll leave the fun of finding out to you). It is one of those places where you never know what is round the corner, anything could happen and probably will.

Biblia Loncrofta consists of 6 short stories set in Longcroft and 2 slightly longer stories set in our world that stand alone. The 6 Longcroft stories are interweaving tales that can also be read as a single story. The tales tell of Simeon, a tattooed wanderer who arrives in Longcroft with not much memory of his journey, the people and creatures he meets (and oh, believe me, there are some wonderful creations here - my favourites being the Sisters of the Hooks) and the fantastic city of Longcroft, in a mixture of Sci-Fi, horror, fantasy and metaphysics. I am loathe to say much more, you really need to read this yourself.

After the Longcroft stories we have the two stand alone stories, 'Feathers' and 'Leaves'. I thought SMJ might have peaked at this point (the Longcroft stories really are that good) - I was wrong. These may be even better.

Feathers is the tale of a man who wakes to find a feather on his pillow. A tale of 3 parts, the first half tells, alternately of what is happening 'now' and how he got to 'now', the second part is..........oh, you don't really think I'm going to spoil it for you do you?

And what can I tell you about the final story in this gem of a collection? Suffice to say this is a story that may well break your heart. A beautiful end to a wonderful collection.

Now, normally I'd be finished about here but not today. Today I have to take a bit of time to mention the writing style of SMJ. Now, I've known SMJ for a few years through Facebook and his (rather excellent) Spectral Press. I knew he could write but I didn't know he could write this well (to be honest I didn't know anyone could. The style and choice of words is wonderful, the images those words produce are vivid mind pictures worthy of the glorious story they tell. It is the literary equivalent of a 3 Michelin Starred chef cooked meal where the words are not so much written as caressed onto the page and from the page into your mind where they will stay for a long, long time.

Reading Biblia Longcrofta has been an absolute joy and I look forward to the day that SMJ and the publishers Ticketyboo Press announce a second volume.

Under normal circumstances I would have given this 10/10 stars but, to paraphrase Gary Compton "my blog, my rules" - so, and this may be a first on this blog............

11/10 stars

Wednesday 12 August 2015

High Voltage by Anthony Price - A Review

I first discovered Anthony Price through his novel 'The House of Wood', a creepy and well told horror story, a year or two ago. Since then I have been keeping an eye out for something new from him since then. A couple of months ago I received an email from Anthony - at last, a new book from him. Would I consider reviewing it? Well that must have taken me all of two seconds to decide on my answer.

As I said, the first novel (tHoW) was firmly in the Horror Genre but with High Voltage the author has gone into YA/Superhero. The story is, in essence, an 'origin' story concerning our hero Kellen Amos and how he becomes the masked vigilante Voltage. To a point it's pretty formulaic at times (he's struggling at school, has a hopeless crush on a beautiful girl who is dating the school's sporting superstore, he has a chubby, dorky friend) but that doesn't make it dull. Again, as you come to expect from these kind of tales there is a laboratory accident which leads to Kellen being able to control electricity (hence the vigilante/superhero name Voltage) and store it for when he needs to use it in his fight for good. A good bit of time is spent learning what he can do and how he can make use of his 'gift' before he gets down to the business of crime solving.

The crime in question is the theft of an ancient Egyptian staff from the Zygonia City Museum which could well be a powerful artefact (but what else would you expect it to be really?). The whole thing with the vigilante superhero, museum artefact robbery, the city of Zygonia and gang of bad guys with a villainous boss  reminded me very much of Batman (the Adam West version from the 60's) at times but I've always been a sucker for this kind of Superhero saga so, as you may have guessed I really quite enjoyed it.

This is book 1 in the Vigilante Chronicles, I don't know what the next book will hold. Will it be more of Voltage's adventures or a new 'vigilante'? One thing I do know is I will be looking forward t  it when it comes out and you will find a review here.

A good summer read for the Young Adult in your life (and then you can borrow it when they're done), pacey and well written


Thursday 6 August 2015

Memory, Sorrow and Thorn

Is there such a thing as The Day That Changed Your Reading Life? Maybe not for everyone but there certainly was for me. I've been a reader for as long as I can remember (there's even a rumour that I was born a day late because I had one more chapter to read) and fantasy was always my favourite genre but it was always stuff like Eddings and Brooks until one fateful day (it was a Thursday - I'd just got paid) in 1988. I finished work, and, like most Thursdays I ended up in Waterstones.

Usually a trip to Waterstones would have involved wandering round the Fantasy and Sci-Fi section dithering over what to get but not this day. There, on the display table was The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams - a book I'd never heard of by an author I'd never heard of. The cover art (boy, wolf, small eskimo like person) got me even before I'd read the back of the book, and it was huge (trade paperback edition). So, saw it, bought it, started it on the way home. Up to that point no book had gripped me, transported me to other lands quite the way TDC did.

The story started off well enough, bringing the land of Osten Ard and it's inhabitants to life but where it stood out was the actual feeling of being there, being a part of it. What really sealed it though was the character of Pryrates, quite possibly the most evil person in fantasy fiction for me. One scene in particular, where he killed a puppy just because he could, just to make a point, still bothers me to this day. I hate Pryrates and I always will. The fact that he is just a character in a book is testament to how good the writing is. Through the first book our hero Simon goes from scullery boy to hero in waiting and is put through the mill a bit in the process. The cast of characters grows and young Andy (well, I was 21 but still, that's kinda young) gets to the end of TDC and is listening to the radio when Phillip Schofield interviews Tad Williams. He finished by dropping out that he'd loved the book and had somehow managed to get his hand on (what I guess was) an uncorrected proof of book 2. To say I was jealous would be an understatement.

Anyway, time went by and eventually (1990) The Stone Of Farewell (TSoF) appeared and it was all I had hoped for and so much more. Another trade paperback edition and another amazing cover. The story picked up just where it had left off (with a helpful little synopsis of what had gone before at the front). Our heroes were spread around, new characters appeared and it did what it needed to do - namely getting everyone and everything set up for the grand finale that was to be book 3. Slightly older Andy finished TSoF and started looking out for Book 3.

It was to be a long wait. Tad was making readers wait long before Robert Jordan and George R R Martin even considered it.

I remember that Waterstones in those days used to have a board of some sort behind the tills where they would put up release dates of books. I used to ask when book 3 would be out and it was always 'no date yet' until one day in 1991 the board was changed. The magic words were there for all to see

              To Green Angel Tower - Tad Williams (date I can't remember) 1993

Being my useful, helpful self I pointed out they'd put the wrong year. They pointed out that they hadn't - it really was 18 months + away. Time dragged.

But eventually the day came and I turned up at Waterstones with my pennies expecting a big book - but not that big a book. It. Was. ENORMOUS!!!! The artwork was the best yet and it was a hardback copy. The thing weighed the same as a medium sized dog, the print was quite small, but oh, the story! Quite possibly the most engrossing, absorbing and, at times, emotionally moving book I have ever read. The one point that really sticks out for me though is that this was the first time I had experienced 'properly being there'. When Elias met Josua at the foot of The Stone Of Farewell for the declaration of battle (if that's what it was) I felt I was watching events unfold, spying if you like, from a hiding place behind a bush. Not just reading about it, living it. It is an experience I have not often had since.

That series still holds up today, so if you haven't read it yet do so the first chance you get . You won't be sorry

Monday 27 July 2015

Guest Post from Alex Davis

A guest post from Alex Davis, part of his month long blog swap to promote The Last War (Tickety Boo Press)


Four days and counting on the July Blog Swap Trail, and that means four exclusive extracts from The Last War to go! And today we're onto Chapter Sixteen, where a plan that will change life forever on Noukaria is about to come to fruition...




Viarus stares blankly at the Re'Nuck, scarcely able to believe what he has heard.

'You... want to speak to the gods?'

'I want us all to speak to the gods, Viarus.'

'How could we even achieve such a thing? And why do you need me?'

'What I speak of is true communication, not the one-way process of worship.'

'You want not only for us to speak to the gods, but for them to speak to us also?'

'Surely that is the very pinnacle of what we could achieve as Animexians? But our voices will not do enough. To achieve this we must transcend the physical and reach another level entirely.'

'You... you speak of the scream?'

'You may wish to call it that, Viarus, based upon your experience. But you must realise there is  more to it than that. Your voice emerged as a scream, on that occasion. Just bear in mind what you saw, and what your natural reaction would be.'

'Your followers would have been horrified at the sight!'

'Of course they would. Even those yet to accept our religion may have felt the same. But maybe it was the hand of the gods themselves guiding your actions that day, showing us what we must do! Did you never stop to ask why it was only you who returned to help me?'

'I came... out of duty. Out of wanting to maintain our faith.'

'All noble purposes, unquestionably, but surely the rest of the congregation feel the same? No, there was a reason it was you above any other – to demonstrate the power at your disposal!'

'Power! If only I could believe I had the power of which you speak!'

'I have witnessed it first-hand, and do not forget that Asha witnessed it as well. It was your power, and your power only, that saved me.'

'There is no power! That scream was beyond my control. I do not even know how it happened!'

'Viarus, please, calm yourself. I realise that we have much to learn of this mental capacity. But what is evident is that you have a great well of  potential power. I do not wish to hear that sound again, as I am sure you do not. But what does not yet shine can be made to gleam. We shall take on this endeavour, and take it on willingly. And you shall be at the very centre of it!'

'I... you know that I have never refused you, Re'Nuck. I have always been most loyal. But I cannot do this thing of which you speak. What if I should fail?'

'Viarus, you fail me now by questioning this. There is no way to know if we shall succeed – but we must believe we can, and make the attempt!'


To find out more about The Last War, visit

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Sunny With A Chance Of Zombies - a review

Zombies - they seem to be everywhere in horror fiction. Not as bad as the re-invented sparkly, boyfriend material vampires, but still, there does seem to be a proliferation of them. So, when I was offered a copy of Sunny With A Chance Of Zombies (henceforth 'Sunny') my first thought was ....deep sigh......more zombies!

But I looked at the premise and the tag line on the back page "....a sensational selection of strangely uplifting stories to help raise a smile at the end of the world." and decided it might well be worth a look. It didn't harm matters that it's published by Knightwatch Press who have, in my opinion, a good track record with horror collections.

So, to the stories....12 in all, and, to be fair, all pretty good. The idea was for something a bit different, 'uplifting' and that is what you get, a lot of different outlooks on the Zombie Apocalypse and the future after it. There is humour here among the horror but there is also a kind of romance (Paradise by Nikki Tanner being a good example), revenge (Thirty Minutes Or It's Free by Anthony Cowin) and even a tale set in the world of illegal zombie racing (Run, Rabbit by Louise Maskill).

As a collection 'Sunny' certainly does what it set out to achieve and gives me hope for the future of zombie fiction (to be honest I'm really hoping for another volume of these tales). With 'Sunny' editor Dion Winton-Polak has put together something that zombie fans will love, with plenty of variety and that little bit of something different we've probably all been secretly hoping for.

The cover art is pretty good too

9/10 stars

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Clovenhoof by Heide Goody and Iain Grant

When Heaven, Hell and Birmingham collide.........

Clovenhoof is the first in a series of books (four so far with a fifth in the works) and if this is anything to go by it will be a very enjoyable series indeed. The main idea for the story is that Satan has been fired from his job in Hell for Gross Incompetence and exiled to the suburbs of Birmingham where he is expected to live as a mere mortal .......oh, if only things were that simple.

As you would expect from the Prince of Darkness, he isn't going to take this lying down. He has tricks up his sleeve and ruses a plenty and with the help of his neighbours, the bookish, slightly nerdy - actually, lets be fair, very nerdy - Ben and the man-hungry Nerys he plans to get back to where he belongs.

Clovenhoof (which is the new name given to Satan on his exile - Jeremy Clovenhoof) works well as a character. He struggles to adapt to his new life where nobody (apart from the barman at his local) recognises him. He needs his new friends to guide him in his new life and tries to be a friend himself but is still the sneaky, crafty type you would expect but he never really comes across as Evil Incarnate - just ........a bit naughty.

Add to this an overcrowding problem in heaven, generally shown through scenes from a series of committee meetings and there is a good little backstory to keep you thinking.

As a story this reminded me very much of Tom Holt in its' style and craziness. There is a lot going on and just when you think you may have read the daftest thing ever the next scene will come along and prove you wrong. There are 410 pages and sometimes a story of this ilk can feel stretched over this length but with Clovenhoof that is certainly not the case. I got through this in three days solely because once I put it down I was itching to get back to it. Just one small point to finish on - for a book written by two people I couldn't see the seam. There was no point where it felt like 'this was written by one person and this by another' so bravo to both for a job well done.

Jeremy Clovenhoof - rogue, rascal, sneak, untrustworthy, former Prince of Hell - and one of the best damn comic leads in a long time.


Friday 10 July 2015

Abendau's Heir by Jo Zebedee -a review

Abendau's Heir is the first in a trilogy (The Inheritance Trilogy) by first time author Jo Zebedee, although you wouldn't believe it to be a first time effort. The general gist of the story is that there is an 'Evil Empire' vs 'Rebels' war in progress. Our hero, Kare, is the key to the future, to victory for one side over the other. His Mother is The Empress, his Father the leader of The Rebellion. They both want Kale on their side but what Kale really wants is to survive.

Just from that synopsis you will get the idea that this is very Star Wars like in concept so you know what you are getting but the characters and story are much deeper than you would expect, so, certainly not a Star Wars clone. One aspect of the story I really appreciated was that the characters are not all cut and dried Good Guys and Bad Guys. Prepare yourself to be wrong footed every now and again is all I will say on that matter ;-)

 This is Space Opera done right, in my opinion, plenty of action, entertaining story and not too much deep science. I do sometimes find that some Space Opera novels leave you wishing you had a degree in the sciences so you could understand just what is going on - with Abendau's Heir this is not the case. It isn't Space Opera Lite but neither is it brain boggling stuff, just a well told space romp.

As for the book itself - I ordered a copy from Waterstones and have to say, this is a really well produced, high quality book. Tickety Boo Press, the publishers have made something that is a pleasure to own.

I've been torn as to what score to give Abendau's Heir ( it kept me well entertained on a recent beach holiday). Everything about it worked for me so I was going to give it 5* but, I just have a feeling that the next in the series is going to up the ante even more so I've decided to split the score (don't worry, it'll all make sense)

Story - 4/5* (just because I need to be able to go upwards with the next volume)
The Physical Copy - 5/5* (a really well put together book)

Abendau's Heir total -9/10*

Wednesday 1 July 2015

Black Mountain by Simon Bestwick - a review

Charles Dickens used to do it, Stephen King did it with The Green Mile and now Simon Bestwick and Spectral Press are doing it with 'Black Mountain'. The 'it' in question is the serialised chap book - a story released in parts at regular intervals. When done right this idea can work really well and thankfully Mr Bestwick seems to have got it spot on.

The story itself (in 11 parts) is an interesting blend, and possibly not something I have come across before (and I like things that up the ante a little), the best way I can think of to describe it would be 'Blair Witch Project in book form' I guess but maybe that doesn't quite do it justice.

The general gist of the story is that Simon Bestwick  (the author tells the tale as a real document) is called to a psychiatric hospital on behalf of an old colleague Rob Markland, now a patient there. Markland has been studying events and occurrences in an area of Wales known as 'The Bala Triangle' and centring on The Black Mountain itself. Whatever he discovered has led him to either a breakdown or madness but before things got too bad he put all his documents together and now it is up to Simon to go through them and find out what happened and what if anything can be done to help his old friend. The following episodes cover the items in the documents from back in Roman times right up to the final expedition by Markland himself. Each part of the tale is by turn creepy, suspenseful and horrific, just the thing to keep you watching eagerly for the next episode to appear on Amazon.

I said at the beginning it was similar in style to something like The Blair Witch Project, that reference was mainly because the bulk of the story is told from the documents read, video files watched etc. but I am going to go a step further and say The Blair Witch Project written by H P Lovecraft. Horror as it should be - the kind that sticks in your mind and keeps you coming back for more. The only real disappointment is that, now, the story is over. But oh, what a story it was. Simon Bestwick could well be one of the best British horror writers around today and Spectral Press have done a grand job on putting his story out. Keep an eye on both.......I know I will

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Monday 29 June 2015

Wye by Jack Croxall - a review

Wye is a Young Adult Dystopian Novel, set in The U K in the time following The Sickness and The Spread. The Sickness was a virus type thing that hit a lot of the population and The Spread - well, that kind of speaks for itself.

The story is told in journal form, by the titular Wye (not her real name) and tells of her attempt to get to safety with her small group of friends and their pursuit by 'a monster' (type unknown). Chuck into the mix that The Sickness/Spread leaves a trail of the walking dead and it's so far, so yeah, yeah, all been done before.

But here's the twist, right from the very first line you are left in no doubt that not everything is maybe what it seems to be. There are little clues and hints that make the reader skip back a sentence or two just to check what they've just read. Putting it all together bit by bit is all part of the fun with this story and I enjoyed it immensely.

If you have a Young Adult reader in your family I would highly recommend this for them (and for yourselves too). Personally I can see this being Jack Croxall's break out book, the one that gets him the notice I believe he deserves so remember the name and keep an eye out for him

4.5/5 stars

Sunday 28 June 2015

The Mall by S L Grey - A Review

S L Grey is a collaboration of Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenburg and The Mall is, in its' own way, a book of two halves. The chapters are told from two different character perspectives (I'm guessing the authors took a character each and wrote alternate chapters). The story itself can also be put into two parts - 'during' and 'after', but we'll get to that later.

The two lead characters are Dan, an emo type who works in a shopping mall near his South African home and Rhoda, a junkie who is at the mall to score her next fix - accompanied by the young boy she is babysitting. Neither are nice people but as characters they work well together.

Dan and Rhoda are put together when her babysitting charge runs off into the back corridors of the mall. Rhoda bullies Dan into helping her look for him, they themselves head off into the back corridors and enter an alternate mall, deep in the bowels underneath the 'original' mall. And that alternate mall is like nothing you would expect (and certainly not somewhere you would want to find yourself. As they continue in their search they get messages on their mobile phones, even when those phones batteries have stopped working.

The alternate mall is very much reminiscent of computer game environments, most especially Silent Hill. There are people in the alternate mall whose sole reason for existing is to shop, shop, shop and others who are their solely to work in the shop, chained to their work counter for hour after hour. The first part of The Mall, the part set in the alternate mall, is some of the best horror I have read in a long time, there are scenes that will have you (forgive the cliché) on the edge of your seat and scenes that are so grotesque they are proper stomach turners. When it becomes clear they are not going to find the young boy the focus turns to trying to escape. The alternate mall is Hell on Earth, all they want is to get out but it seems no-one ever gets back to the surface.

So far, a cracking horror and if we were finishing here 5/5 stars........

But we aren't done yet.

It won't be too much of a spoiler to say Dan and Rhoda manage to escape, the young boy she Rhoda was babysitting is back home safe and sound and all is well with the world. This for me is where The Mall fell down a bit. Dan and Rhoda get on with their lives, with Rhoda moving in temporarily with Dan and his mother.

The thing is, they were terrified while they were in the alternate mall, all they wanted was to get away from the horror but by the end of the story they decide life is boring 'up top' so decide they have to head back to the mall and find their way back into the alternate mall - you know, the one they spent the first two thirds of the book desperately trying to get away from.

Don't get me wrong, the alternate view point chapters worked well, the story telling is tight for the most part and the alternate mall environment is truly one of the scariest in a long time. It's just the end that felt off to me, that I didn't really 'get'. The alternate mall is a horrible, disgusting, terrifying place and I can't imagine any situation that would be so bad that it would make anyone want to go back once they had escaped

So, for the alternate mall section - 5/5 stars

for the 'after' section - 3/5 stars

Final rating - 4/5 stars

There are two more in the series 'The Ward' and 'The New Girl' and the nasty, visceral horror of The Mall means I will be reading those soon....I just hope I enjoy their respective endings a bit more.

Thursday 25 June 2015

Monsters by Paul Kane - a review

First things first, just for purposes of clarity, I received an electronic pre publication copy of this from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Question: What is the first thing you think of when the word 'monster' is used? Is it the old black and white hammer films? Video nasties of the 80's? Or something else completely? Whatever it may be there will be something in this collection for you.

There are 18 stories here, 17 reprinted from other sources and one original to this collection, covering 1999 to the present. Some I have read before but most are new to me - and each one I enjoyed for it's own reasons.

The thing I find with anthologies (and this is just a personal view) is that sometimes the stories can run into one another, especially if the focus is just the one author. Thankfully this is not the case here. There is enough diversity to keep you hooked for "just one more" and you can't always be sure where that "just one more" will be taking you. There is humour here, in places, but the darkness is never far away. A prime example being 'Guilty Pleasures' which tells of a Guilt Demon visiting people with, as you might expect, guilty secrets, whispering in their ears. The demon itself came across, to me, as a more of a cheeky rascal type than an evil hellspawn but the ending certainly dried up the chuckles. 'Guilty Pleasures' is followed by 'Speaking in Tongues' which, again, had a vein of humour in the way the lead character interacts, unwillingly, with people but the reasoning behind it all is Body Horror at its' best (see what I mean about diversity).

There is 'old school' horror here (Nightlife, Dracula in Love), Body Horror (the aforementioned Speaking in Tongues, The Disease), and all points in-between. Plenty for everyone - and cover art by Clive Barker!

If I were to have one complaint it is that there is one story of Mr Kane's that I would have included in this collection that is not here, but that is just my opinion. I think it is safe to say Paul Kane is one of my 'go to' guys for horror shorts and this is a worthy addition to his oeuvre. If you've read his works before you will want to own this and if you are new to him this is as good a starting point as any.

5/5 stars

Enjoy ;-)

Tuesday 23 June 2015

John Dies At The End by David Wong - a review

Here's the thing with reviewing books (or anything else for that matter) - most times you are able to say "I really enjoyed it", "I disliked it" or maybe "Meh, it was okay". On finishing John Dies At The End the overlying thought I was left with was "What in the 17 holy hells have I just read!!!"

John Dies is not an easy book to review but I'll do my best. The general gist of the story is that our 'heroes' are two slacker types Dave and the titular John are in the middle of a whole world of weird. There are parallel universes, monsters made of joints of meat, a dog that dies and reappears again, horrific creatures that almost defy description and all is told in a mainly humorous style that leaves it seeming like it is Bill and Ted's Awesome B Movie . The horror is all at the top end of the gross out scale and there are a lot of poo and knob jokes that can become a bit trying after a while but if those are your 'thing' you'll probably enjoy it. Maybe I'm just not the audience age group it's aimed at.

For the story I would have given it 3 1/2 out of 5 stars but there were other issues.....

I read this on my kindle and, to be frank, found the text layout to be very poor in places. On one page alone, for instance, there was,

    1) two el der ly (three separate words) security guards

    2) En glish (two words!)

    3) Notthe (one word)

    4) house hold (two words)

You get the idea! This looks like it has not been proof read or, if it has, then whoever did it only did a half arsed job. There are similar occurrences all through the book and it really does detract from the narrative flow at times. Just because the kindle isn't seen as a 'real book' it doesn't mean there is any excuse for this poor level of presentation and for this I have to take an extra mark so .......

John Dies At The End - 2 1/2 out of 5