Fury and the Fae

21:45 PM, 21 November 2020

This was my first book by indie author Will O’Shire and Book 1 of the ‘Fae Awakening’ series seemed like a logical start point. The author especially enjoys writing in the urban fantasy genre and in this novella the narrative explains how the Fae and human worlds co-exist, side by side. Ordinarily the permeable interface, which enables each to carry on oblivious to the other, is  marshalled by the likes of the main character, investigator Hunter Braydenbach (human) and the Fae ‘Guardians of the Realms’. Tasked by a treaty between the different spheres with ensuring ‘never the twain shall meet’, their clandestine activities are perilous and thankless, but crucial to maintaining peace, albeit no one would choose to be a hunter or a guardian.

This short book also introduces a host of characters and mythical creatures. Troll and goblin, giant and gargoyle. Some working together, to solve the mystery of the flaming black unicorn that has set light to buildings and killed a human, whilst seeking to preserve the anonymity of the Fae. Others, like untrustworthy leprechaun, Damian Hurst, just trying to get ahead. An added complication in this story are the two unsuspecting human teenagers unwittingly drawn into the Fae world, where they need to be protected and preferably prevented from getting themselves killed!

It’s a thrilling mix and for the reader an important foundation for future books in the series. I’m especially keen to read more about the intriguing and illusive forest-dweller and ‘bigfoot’, ‘Kawa’, who helps Hunter’s team and I’m sure there’s more to come from guardian ‘Frank’ too.

The book seems to be pitched at a YA readership and though in my paperback copy the author pays tribute to the cover design by Ivan Cakic, the animated version shared by @willoshire on Twitter is also excellent. https://twitter.com/i/status/1310761213639319555 In any event an interest in the Fae has certainly been awakened in me!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Contrasting Fortunes

4:12 PM 26 JUNE 2020

One of the things I adore about Kevin Ansbro’s writing is the assured way in which he reconciles the seemingly incompatible. Few authors can so effortlessly weave together the incongruity of a European serial killer with a SE Asian mythical being, trapped in a two thousand year purgatory at the bottom of the Andaman Sea. Yet, the remarkable journey on which the author takes the reader also enmeshes very familiar human themes of attachment and loss, romantic love and platonic friendship, alongside Buddhist notions of karma. It makes for a heady mix!

This blending of perceived contrasts, the exotic and mundane, is exemplified perhaps in the main locations for the tale. With all due respect to the inhabitants of East Anglia, Norwich (UK) and Phuket (Thailand) are, on the face of it, very different! Still, through the travails of the main characters, the author suggests that human experience is not entirely shaped by location, or culture. If not ‘fate’, sometimes things are just ‘meant to be’.

Take the British couple, Calum and Hannah, they are close friends at school, but then are separated by the vagaries of family moves, but it is Calum’s solo visit to Thailand that proves the catalyst for a potential reunion with his ‘true love’. As well as developing an immediate affinity for this unfamiliar territory, Calum befriends a young local man, Sawat Leelapun, with a shared interest in martial arts, but a very different trajectory in life. As a boy, Sawat has survived the 2004 tsunami, but experienced the attendant tragedy and challenges that followed. He too has a significant other (‘Nok’), but more central is the bond formed between the two men and the influence of Sawat’s humble nature on his hot-headed British friend. As well as helping Calum reflect on his own approach to life, like the knock-on effect of dominoes, Sawat also confides in his friend an incredible secret he has harboured since childhood and introduces the reader to the mythical Kinnara.

This diversion into supernatural elements is not new for the author, but offers a very helpful vehicle for expressing the clear affection with which Mr Ansbro regards the people and culture of Thailand. ‘Klahan Kinnara’ is a prince among the mythical swan people, cast into the sea, spellbound and destined to be alone for eternity. Klahan is also separated from his beloved and like his human counterparts shares a profound sense of loss. The question posed by the story is whether the three couples can all rely on fate/karma/good fortune, or perhaps the invincible nature of their collective love, to generate similarly happy outcomes?

The fly in the ointment, of course, is the serial murderer I mentioned, but whilst the author has a penchant for a dash of the macabre, it is never arbitrary. Rather the latent threat is a further development of the contrast between good and evil. Just as the reader might hope for good things to happen to good people, the reverse can also be quite satisfying. With ‘Kinnara’ , the author has skilfully delivered another exhilarating and emotional ride for the reader and has secured another spot on my favourites shelf.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Bastard Rebellion

3:39 PM 24 JUNE 2020

One of the benefits of building a world unfamiliar to the reader and characters that can live for hundreds of years, is the size of canvas, on which the author can construct his story. Certainly, in ‘Shadowless’, Randall McNally has developed a book exploiting those epic proportions, ranging across the ‘Northern Realms’, with a large cast of characters that perhaps befits such an ambitious undertaking. The fact that this is also a debut novel merely emphasises the congratulations due to the author, for such an absorbing read.

Amid echoes of Greek and Roman mythology, the Northern Realms is a world that cultivates curiosity and discomfort, wonder and horror in equal measure. The book also rather morphs into a novel, as the first half comprises a series of chapters, which read almost like short stories, or vignettes, introducing the respective ‘heroes’, with their inherited power and explaining how their differing local environments are formulated.

The malevolent ‘villains’ in the region are undoubtedly the cohort of powerful gods, who have survived a civil war among themselves, but in the process killed all of the goddesses. As a consequence, this exclusively macho group, using their ability to assume any form, satisfy their carnal desires among mortal women, the resulting offspring being born with supernatural traits, but without shadows. The ‘shadowless’ are thus born with innate advantage and yet are destined to be marked out and damned, neither mortal, nor god. The power bequeathed by their respective fathers may grow, if they can survive, but it can also be ‘harvested’ by the relevant god, in a cynical cull of their illegitimate children. Moreover, the Northern Realms are in the thrall of temples and mortal worshippers, who seek to enthusiastically appease the gods, by deploying a militia of ‘Shadow Watchers’, to identify and sacrifice the shadowless. Survival depends often on staying hidden from public view, in aristocratic isolation, forest, dungeon, or underground community. Only the mysterious Brother Amrodan, priest within a sole religious order committed to finding and helping the shadowless, appears to be on their side. Moreover, Amrodan is the lynchpin, mapping the whereabouts of the disparate individuals over centuries and devising the plan by which the gods might eventually be challenged. For me, he was a fleeting reminder of Nick Fury, meticulously assembling the ‘Avengers’, only Amrodan’s use of the dark arts involved a primeval pool and his kickass firepower came in the shape of a black dragon!

In a sense, the fact that these fascinating shadowless individuals seemed to struggle to gel as a group was hardly surprising. However, as prophesied, within the group is an especially powerful ‘shadowmancer’ who didn’t really fulfil his potential in this first outing. Coming up against a 25 feet tall monster with destruction on his mind may test the mettle of any leader, but it has left me with the impression that this book is the foundation of an ongoing story, the opening battle in a war, which I hope the author will continue. Interesting as they are, I did wonder at the sheer number of characters and the juggling required to keep them all in play, but if this does indeed culminate in further volumes, then returning to the canvas analogy, the author has acres of material to work with. Certainly the polish in some of those discrete early chapters bore the hallmarks of a talented wordsmith and I hope to return for Mr McNally’s next instalment soon. Incidentally, whilst the reader should rarely judge a book by its cover, the cover art, which did well in an online competition, on this occasion, is rather a good guide to the quality within.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Accomplished Debut Novel

12:56 PM 24 MAY 2020

“Killing a Dead Man” is rightly billed as a ‘supernatural thriller’ and though the author, Siobhian R. Hodges is a new talent, I thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel. Ostensibly targeted at the YA readership, it can be tricky when shedding light on some challenging themes not to oversteer, but in her subtle use of light and shade, the author successfully navigates a course, which balances the best and worst of human traits.

Written in the first person, the book adopts the perspective of Jordan, now aged fifteen, but weighed down by the loss of his twin brother, Danny, brutally murdered five years earlier. It was a defining moment in Jordan’s young life, steeped in guilt that he hadn’t prevented it and anger that the perpetrator had not been caught. The only consolation for Jordan is that Danny’s spirit had not moved on, but intermittently communicates with his brother. Jordan can feel Danny’s presence, rather than see him and though comforting, the connection was not without consequences. The boys’ bewildered parents had finally sought psychiatric help for their surviving son, meanwhile Jordan’s talking to an invisible brother was seized upon by teenage school bullies. The central character is isolated amid the struggles of his adolescent life, but not alone. Still, when Danny divulges he knows the identity of his killer, Jordan is compelled to launch across the country in search of revenge.

Whilst the premise of the subsequent adventure may play differently, depending on the reader’s beliefs concerning the afterlife, I found the author’s description of the twins’ ongoing relationship and the permeable nature of the boundary between this world and the next, both convincing and warming. Jordan and Danny are each held in a glutinous state of torment, which must surely be excised if they are to move on with their respective journeys, but it will take active forces in both realms if Jordan is to survive the ordeal.

Along the way, the reader is introduced to some intriguing characters, in particular, long-suffering taxi driver, Mr Butch, who is unwittingly drawn into Jordan’s odyssey and just as Danny attends the edge of the living world, so Jordan’s companion is a welcome escort for his foray into a murky, sometimes hostile adult environment.

The book teems with suspense, yet delivers the reader a very satisfying denouement. I look forward to placing my copy in the hands of a teenager, for whom I think the novel was intended, but with a hearty recommendation that it is well worth reading. So too perhaps for those young of heart!

Unusual praise too for the quality of the binding. I am not ordinarily moved to comment on such aesthetics, however, the paperback, apparently “printed in Great Britain by Amazon”, has a deliciously waxy feel to the touch, which simply made the book a genuine pleasure to hold. Ms Hodges is to be congratulated on such a rounded debut and I look forward with interest to her future titles.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

#IndieApril choice

10:14 AM 5 MAY 2019

In solidarity with the Twitter campaign #IndieApril, I alighted on this book by independent author, H.C.Elliston over the Easter weekend. This was my first dip into the work of Ms Elliston and the first book from the ‘romantic/thriller’ genre to make it onto my ‘Booklikes’ virtual shelf. Ordinarily, not what I would describe as ‘my thing’, it can sometimes be good to mix it up a little and I came to “Think Fast, Die Last” with an open mind.

After years in an abusive, controlling marriage, the main character (Jenna) is making a break for a happier life with Dylan. The first step in the transformation is a weekend retreat, but the pair find their idyllic hideaway has been double-booked and their privacy invaded by another equally unimpressed couple (John and Kerry). Though the couples have different agendas, they find themselves bound together for mutual advantage and to survive the crossfire between competing criminal gangs, who appear to have violent designs on their respective well-being.

Naturally Jenna’s husband (Alan) is confirmed as a waste of space, but unbeknown to Jenna his criminal activities have attracted the attention of more serious thugs and by association placed his estranged wife in danger. In contrast, Dylan is the antithesis of Alan and through his behaviour under the trials of a life-threatening situation, he and Jenna may have a future, if they can both just survive.

In summary, this book is a light holiday read. The scenario is mildly improbable, the threatening villains wannabe sopranos, but far too hapless and incompetent to suggest genuinely organized criminals and the love interest is consistent with a vulnerable woman warily extricating herself from a disastrous marriage. The various dramatic flashpoints felt more like swells than crescendos, but the storyline moved along without shredding emotions and sometimes that’s just fine.

In a sense there was a tension in the alloying of genres, in that the book didn’t feel like an out-and-out romance, but nor was it especially thrilling. Still, there was enough for me to think that I may check out one of the author’s other novels.

Just one observation on the ‘pov’ layout of this novel. Thirty four chapters and all bar a few written from Jenna’s perspective, so in various parts many successive chapters entitled ‘Jenna’. There seemed to be different thoughts on this within the #WritingCommunity twitterati, but as a personal view it seemed unnecessary and a bit irritating. If the perspective hasn’t changed, as the reader, I may only need to be signposted when is does, but I accept there are differing views and this hardly counts as a blemish, on an otherwise enjoyable book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

At the going down of the sun…

3:49 PM 21 APRIL 2019

The passing of the one hundredth Remembrance Day since the end of the Great War 1914-18, last November, gave good reason (if it was needed) to revisit some of the written records of that gloomy period of European history. Often poignant, the poetry, letters and tragic lists of the fallen offer reminders, lest we forget, of the sacrifice of a generation. However, given the colossal loss of life, what sometimes appears absent from contemporary accounts is a view from the non-commissioned ranks, a ‘Tommy’s’ experience from the trenches of the front lines. As such, this memoir by Cpl Sam Sutcliffe, collated/edited by his son Phillip, offers a telling insight into the chaos of conflict visited on so many and the mind-set of those so often cast as ‘cannon-fodder’. Even allowing for the retrospective writing of this lengthy book, the vivid descriptions created by the author and the accompanying endnotes, cross-referencing a wide range of confirmatory material, make this a sobering but compelling read.
The title of the book gives an immediate flavour of the self-effacing humility of the author and yet he goes on to describe joining up aged just sixteen, with his older brother (Ted) and friends (in fact, Sam lied about his age, as the youngest recruit allowed was 19). The swell of public patriotic fervour in 1912 and the casual acceptance of the need to do ‘one’s duty’, in hindsight, seems naive. Moreover, the apparent absence of apprehension suggests a misunderstanding of the carnage of war. The phlegmatic acceptance of Sutcliffe’s parents to their young son’s decision also perhaps an echo of the national willingness to tolerate sacrifice. Though later, conscription became necessary and through his journey the author develops a certain cynicism about those who avoided service altogether and those who sought to distance themselves from the trenches at the front line, tempered only by the psychological breakdowns he witnessed there.


Subsequently Sutcliffe’s tender age did confer a temporary reprieve. Still not eighteen, the author had already fought in the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign and the first battle of the Somme, rising to the rank of acting Sergeant, when he was plucked briefly to safety until 1917 (when he became nineteen) and could be returned to the western front, in time for the anticipated Spring offensive. Captured during that monumental effort by Germany to end the war, Sutcliffe relates his subsequent experience as a prisoner-of-war and an equally challenging personal struggle to just stay alive and survive the attendant risk of disease and privation.


This book is an extraordinary account of a teenager’s experience of a brutal conflict that culminated in a vast body count. After Gallipoli (wherein having been evacuated his unit was returned to cover the withdrawal of the foremost positions), the author laments the decimation of his original battalion of volunteers from London, culled from a thousand men to around just two hundred. Indeed the scale of this loss appears to haunt Sutcliffe throughout his account and his perspective clearly changes regarding the veneer of national pride, which he sees laid bare amid such abject failure.


At times the book reads like a novel. For example, the author is separated from his brother early on, but their paths cross several times in the course of the war. Yet, there is no disguising the sense of relief when the siblings both survive, albeit Ted’s exposure to gas in the trenches had a lasting effect. No commentary on the strategic mistakes pored over by historians in subsequent decades, nor criticism of the class system which conferred leadership roles on some ill-equipped to inspire others, though Sutcliffe does single out a couple of officers revered for their compassionate and resilient example, who did indeed lead from the front. Nonetheless, the reader is left with the distinct impression that notwithstanding his protestations to the contrary, Sam Sutcliffe’s contribution was indeed heroic and it is the collective efforts of many such ‘nobodies’ and a preparedness to do their ‘bit’ that ultimately made the crucial difference. We shall remember them…

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Blunt, Heads & Laughter in Gloomwood!

14:04, 8 November 2020

For Twitter followers of Ross Young (@InkDisregardit) it may be unsurprising to learn that his debut novel, “Dead Heads” is an irreverent comedy. Notwithstanding the contested nature of the afterlife, the author’s depiction of ‘Gloomwood’ (a city located somewhere beyond the living sphere) is a far cry from the common expectations of paradise. Yet, it is perhaps consistent with a realm overseen by the Grim Reaper – grey, depressing….grim.

Still, though populated by the dead, when members of the great and the good start being mysteriously decapitated, the city administrators look to the newly-arrived Detective Augustan Blunt to stop the carnage and unravel the strange ethereal events. Such a surreal premise might discourage some readers of contemporary urban fantasy, but the characters are well-drawn and the world constructed by the author is fascinating in all its detailed weirdness. However, it is the dialogue and crisp one-liners that give full rein to the author’s dry humour and the inventive nature of his story-telling. For example, I just love the idea of being collected from the ‘deathport’ by a reaper in a hoodie!

Ross Young is an unfamiliar indie writer to me, but this outing has fuelled my curiosity and this first Gloomwood novel is a promising platform for future stories and the further development of a funny cast of characters. Somehow this book just seemed to resonate with the surreality of our time and laughter born of dark humour may be our best antidote in the face of the COVID tragedy, at least for now.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Chinese Whispers…

10:52 PM 14 JANUARY 2019

Ahead of the publishing of “Mia Shan, The Awakening” (15/1/19), I was given the opportunity for early access, in return for an honest review. The book is not easy to pigeonhole, bearing traits of various fantasy subgenres – historical, dark, paranormal and urban. However, I suspect the prominence of Chinese martial arts and the attendant violence is likely to have a greater bearing on the readership, than some notional category. I am not a fantasy buff by any means, but neither does the reader need to be, to engage with this interesting saga, which opens in Hong Kong at the end of the nineteenth century.


The narrative follows the development and exploits of Chow Lei, aged ten at the outset, who is orphaned and raised by her grandmother (PoPo), above the family’s thriving noodle shop. The family matriarch worships Guan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion and mercy and is relying on the venerated idol to keep her granddaughter safe, but though Lei discovers an exceptional ability to master martial arts, compassion is not one of her strengths. Still, in spite of her PoPo’s reticence, Lei is sent to the Shaolin Temple at Seng Shan to be admitted as a novice nun, to continue her training.


For those of us brought up on David Carradine playing Kwai Chang Caine in the seventies TV series ‘Kung Fu’ and more recently the critically-acclaimed movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, there are familiar archetypes, which unless handled carefully run the risk of appearing a little tired. The superhuman qualities typically conferred on the protagonist are also expected, but need to be plausible. The author neatly avoids these traps by suggesting Lei might be the prophesied Bodhisattva of Justice. Certainly to master the eighteen fighting styles in two years is unique, but Lei’s ongoing absence of compassion for her adversaries, alongside a very definite view of right and wrong, continues to worry her Shaolin Master (Shi Suxi). Indeed, in a very Star Wars-esque moment, he exhorts Lei, “You must know the void and be one with the void. You must know how to avoid the dark ways and follow the path of enlightenment….”


Now re-named Miao Shan and equipped to address injustice head-on, Lei returns to her city, a mighty sword-carrying bulwark against powerful criminal evil-doers.
It’s a familiar formula, but on the whole, the author has created an entertaining novel, which has scope for sequels. What it lacks in characterization, it certainly makes up for in the action department and for fans of kung fu that doubtless helps the readers’ appreciation.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Thought-provoking, Challenging, Uncomfortably Good

3:19 PM 18 FEBRUARY 2018

Having recently enjoyed ‘A Funeral for an Owl’ by indie author Jane Davis (see review dated 2 Jan 2018), I dived further into her back catalogue and found this book (first published in 2012) and I’m delighted to report that the author’s accessible writing style again made for a really enjoyable read.

In particular, Davis does have a wonderful knack for developing interesting teenage characters and in this offering the central protagonist (Judy Jones) is recovering from a deliberately mundane, yet life-changing incident, in which a wall collapses on her. In fact her survival is positively miraculous. Still, the wall is a very effective metaphor for other constructs around self-image, relationships, indeed life and the book explores how susceptible to collapse these things can also be when buffeted by external, or self-made pressures. The stress-test that the human experience places on individuals, families and communities can be profound and the mechanisms created to defend one’s well-being can be elaborate, or at times blindingly simple. Though not meant to be a commentary on faith, Davis does at least invite the question whether spiritual faith and/or faith in each other aids the character’s ability to cope and navigate the unexpected, or whether the key is our shared humanity and the capacity for random acts of kindness.

For those readers with children, especially teenagers, there are interesting moments for reflection at the shifting nature of the parental relationship, but also a potentially visceral empathy with Judy’s parents and the impact of the kind of news for which we all live in a state of dread. But, if subsequently the child then purports to experience visions, how does one react to that?

At its core the book focuses on the experience of loss – of health, identity, belonging, an anticipated future – and the attendant bereavement. The interlacing of aspects of the characters’ individual and collective journeys is cleverly handled by the author, though for me the slightly bizarre departure from the rails of Elaine Jones (Judy’s Mum) was an unnecessary distraction. Yet, all-in-all a fascinating and thoughtful novel, which does emphasize the potential corrosion of loneliness, however it may be imposed.

Rating: 4 out of 5.