Zoë Markham

This is my place to review, and to blog all the bookish things.


Prince of Dorkness

Prince of Dorkness - Tim    Collins

  This was a fun read :) Think, Adrian Mole but with fangs and fur. I've never read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but I have to confess I probably will now :) I didn't realise I'd picked up the second in the series, will have to go back and grab the first, but it doesn't make any difference to the read. It's a great, quick run-through, perfect for when you've got things on your mind and can't concentrate on much. I like Nigel. I love how Chloe gets what she deserves. Win. 

The Unquiet House

The Unquiet House - Alison Littlewood

I've only just finished this one and need to give it some time to sink in. I have to say though, better than The Magic Cottage, and, quite possibly, better than The Haunting of Hill House. That should give you a clue as to the level of awesome that we're dealing with here. 


Also, on a very random note, if you you feel that the semicolon is hugely underrepresented in current fiction, prepare yourself for inner joy :)

The Seedbearing Prince

The Seedbearing Prince: Part I - DaVaun Sanders

This one of the hardest reviews I've had to write to date, because I've never read anything quite like The Seedbearing Prince before. It's so, so unusual, and has completely thrown me off-balance. I'm, dare I say it, near speechless. I'd love to just write "This was a uniquely incredible, incredibly unique read." and leave it there...honestly...it was so, so good that it's
floored me.

So, to try and get on myself back on track, I'll start with the obvious. Sanders' cover art is very strong. Never, ever underestimate the importance of that first impression. The artwork here is striking and professional, and for Indie Authors in particular, that's a huge win. I'd be drawn to this in a bookshop, and it's one I can guarantee you I'd pick up. The next stop for your potential reader is the blurb. Now, not quite so strong here, imho. I see mention of a 'farmer's son' and already my mind is wandering. As a lifelong fantasy reader I can't tell you how many novels featuring humble farm boys heading off on quests I've read. It's dangerous ground in many respects. Others will argue the 'if it 'aint broke' defence, which is entirely fair, it just depends on what audience you're going for. Hardcore Fantasy fans will be on their guard at this point. Many that I know would re-shelve the book before reaching the end of that first sentence. There are three words coming up that would've stopped me putting it back though, "Voidwalkers" and "floating fortress". That totally moves away from everything I know about farmboys, and I'm off to the cash desk to pay.

Comparison-wise, there are some obvious parallels here that I should at least mention. But Sanders put his personal spin on everything and makes the story completely his own. I'd be remiss if I got through the review without mentioning Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Eragon. So, consider them mentioned, but don't let them put you off.

Whilst the farm boy theme may well be old and tired, Sanders puts enough of a fresh spin on it here that it works, and works well. Shard is a world so different from any I've read in Fantasy before that everything felt brand new. Farming here isn't the usual pigs and grain scenario the mind tends to conjure. It's much, much more than that. And the way that farming works, the means in which the food is distributed, it's just genius. I'm not wanting to spoiler anything, you'll just have to trust me, it's fantastic.

The mix of the Sci-Fi settings with the Fantasy character types was beautifully handled. I've seen this tried many times, but never seen it work as well as it does here. Sanders' world-building is masterful, and his character creation is impeccable. How often do you get that? So many times it's one at the expense of the other. Not here!

Sanders has an immense amount to explain to the reader about his world, and he handles it like an absolute pro. He goes for the organic approach, which is my favourite kind. There are no vast info-dumps to trawl though, we learn about the world as we travel with Dayn, through his eyes, and when you consider the sheer weight of information contained here that's an incredible feat of writing. How he handles that mass of material so compactly and so engagingly, well, if he could bottle it and sell it he'd be a rich man.

The characters here were my favourite part of the novel. I'm a big fan of character-driven fantasy, and there are some gems here. Dayn is a fantastic protagonist. He became like an 'anti-grit' hero for me. I've got so tired lately of reading Fantasy with dark, disturbed heroes brimming with violence and malice. It seems to have become the norm in contemporary fantasy, a lot of the time you don't get 20 pages in any more before the customary rape scene. It can be powerful, and serve a purpose, of course, but so much of the time it's just thrown in for effect and what Sanders does here is demonstrate that it's not necessary. You can have an interesting, three dimensional hero without the brooding malice, and it can be a Really Good Thing. Dayn is an 'everyman' figure, which makes him instantly accessible. He's easy to identify with and that's what makes him so much fun to read.

Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of menace in Dayn's world, and there's terror and horror within the novel, but at the same time there's Goodness, and Hope, and Humour. With Sanders you get the whole picture. And much as I don't want to sound like an Old Woman here, it's brilliant to see it done without serial bad language and the kind of 'who can out grit each other the most' p*ssing contest that the likes of Abercrombie and Lawrence enjoy. This is a novel I'd be happy lending to my Sci-Fi loving Mum, and at the same time, one that I would love to see my young son reading. There's another rarity for you right there, it's not easy to write well for both adults and teens, but to my mind, Sanders has nailed it.

The writing here is accomplished and engaging. Sanders has a beautiful turn of phrase that I really wasn't expecting, it's a kind of narrative voice that I've not encountered often in Sci-Fi. And I'd love to see more of it out there! His prose is intelligent and addictive, nothing is dumbed down or softened, there's an honesty there that's hard to describe. You don't often see a YA read of this quality. And I think that's what makes it stand out from the crowd so much for me as a reader. His tone reminds me of Peter V Brett in places, and the scope of his material puts me in mind of mash-up of Robert Jordan and Steven Erikson. If you like either of those three, you'll find something to like in The Seedbearing Prince.

So am I just going to endlessly gush or do I have anything negative to say? Well, two little things. Well one little thing and one really quite big thing. The little thing is that there's a bit of a pacing issue.  The prologue is absolutely breakneck. It's hold-your-breath stuff. Everything is thrown at you and you're hurtling along trying to take it all in and it's totally captivating. Then with the first chapter you get a much more relaxed pace, which works brilliantly in contrast. But you need to get used to that slow pace because, while there are plenty of hard and fast action scenes, overall the pace does tend very much towards the unhurried. With the richness of the world it's completely understandable, and to my mind it works 99% of the time. There were a couple of places though where I did my find my eyes skipping ahead, and had to wrench them back. It's going to be a love it or hate it situation I think, on the whole I loved it. Jordan is the closest I can think to compare it to, but don't be put off because it's nowhere near *that* slow. It's just...rich...a richly, heavily detailed story, and you do get a huge amount of value in return for that laid back pace.

The big thing, for me, was the ending. I am not a happy bunny when it comes to cliffhangers. I understand that they have their place, but personally I'm always looking for a complete unit, no matter what number in a series. Aspects of cliffhanger are fine, but this? this was a little too much for me. I actually found myself turning my Kindle over and looking at the back. No idea what I was expecting to find, I just wanted MORE. But maybe that's the ultimate indicator of the strength of a novel, can you tick the 'reader left wanting more' box? Mr Sanders, consider it ticked!

On the whole, I absolutely loved The Seedbearing Prince. I read it in a ridiculously short time. I got by on 2 hours sleep to finish it. Which, in retrospect, may well have been why I was randomly yelling at no one demanding 'the rest of the story'. I genuinely can't recommend this highly enough. If you've never read an Indie title out of fear of quality, this would be a really, really good example to cut your teeth on. I can't possibly give it anything less than five stars.


Tainted - A.E. Rought

The first novel in AE Rought's Broken series caught me completely off guard. I couldn't have loved it more, so when the chance came up to review the second, Tainted, I damn near bit Strange Chemistry's hand off. I should point out from the outset though, I'm not in the YA bracket this series is aimed at. Sadly, I'm A, not YA!


I have an unfortunate history of loving series openers, fan-girling them rabidly and then being massively disappointed in book two. This happened most notably with Rothfuss and Brett, and now I'm always conscious of it being a 'thing' with me. So when I started reading Tainted and found it was missing Em's narrative, I had to stop and have a little word with myself before carrying on. Don't you start now, Markham, give it a chance...


Tainted could not be more different from Broken if it tried. Gone is the slow, languid pace of Em's narrative, gone is the brooding, the swooning, the endearing clumsiness and the deliciously slow build-up to the breathtaking finale. In fact, gone is everything I shouldn't have loved about Broken, but did.


Alex is in the driving seat in Tainted, and his narrative is break-neck right from the start. He takes us through a much darker and crueller plot filled with twists and turns that fling the reader around relentlessly and don't give them so much as a second to sit back and relax. Rought appears fiercely, determinedly cruel to the characters in this one, and there's little time for happiness for either them, or us this time around.


It's ridiculously hard to write this one without spoilers. But I'll try. There's just SO much going on in Tainted you wouldn't believe the number of times I 'sharp intake of breath'd' - in fact, during one of the bigger shocks of the book I was halfway through a chicken baguette on a Brittany Ferry and nearly choked to death. I kid you not. It's like...an absolute explosion of plot that burns through the entire narrative. If you like your fiction fast-paced, you're going to love this one.


Every single character suffers. And every single character fights for what they believe in, in one way or another. And at the end, not all of them make it through. But for those who do, there is at least that one moment of peace, and of reflection, and, most importantly, of hope.


I had a bit of a Kathy Bates moment over one character who I really came to like, and who was given a double helping of adversity here, and that reminded me that although I might well have felt a little out of my comfort zone with the pacing and the perspective in Tainted, it clearly affected me almost as much as Broken because, bloody hell, I cried! (I'm 36, and ashamed, lol)



Really, when I come to think of it, Rought has been genius here. She's given us time and opportunity to fall in love with her characters in the first book, and she's put them through the ringer in the second, and because we love them we stick with them and feel bad for them and wave mental knives at her because we're hooked. Because we care. Any author who makes you genuinely care about their characters is onto a winner. And so, even though the style of this one isn't really my thing, and even though I was desperate for some kind of break in the pace, I can't deny that I enjoyed Tainted and that I'm just as eager for the next one. The difference between 'adored' and 'enjoyed' here is purely stylistic. I love these characters and want to see more of them. 


Three - Jay Posey

Oh but this was good. Really, really good. Un-putdownably so. I read it over two days whilst off work sick and it got me through that horrible "before the drugs kick in" section of recovery in a blur of awesome.


Three is a brilliantly dark and dangerous Post Apocalyptic novel set in a broken world. Posey gives absolutely nothing away, which is the part that you're either going to love or hate. As a reader, I absolutely love it when authors throw you in at the deep end. I'm not one for long, detailed info-dumps and am a life-long fan of the organic approach to world-building. Which made Three perfect for me. Those of you who like your background work covered first, may struggle here. You should definitely still give it a go though, follow Three, Cass & Wren, stay close to them and try to stay safe. Get ready for a lot of running.


Books that carry a heavy element of 'running away' can often get samey and predictable. Three doesn't fall into that trap. Posey knows just when to break things up with the introduction of fresh menace, and when to dangle a juicy tidbit of world knowledge in front of your nose. And when you feel almost physically tired from trying to keep up with Three & Co. he brings you into Greenstone and lets you rest up with some kind and gentle souls. Albeit briefly.


I don't even know how to describe what Posey does in a way that will do the book justice. It's as if...your journey through the narrative is perfectly, absolutely controlled at all times, and yet when you're reading, it feels like the opposite is true. You feel lost in the narrative initially, but you never are, and it's not until you reach the end that you see. Three gets its hooks into you immediately, but once you're on board a hundred tiny new hooks work their way in, and when you finish it...each of those little holes stings and reminds you of an aspect that you want to know more about.  I am somehow, literally, itching for the next in the series.


I try to not go anywhere near spoilers in reviews. So in the very vaguest of terms I'll say that the relationship between Cass and Wren was one of my favourite aspects of the book. As Mum to a young boy myself, Posey had my eyes leaking at one point. Couple that with the tech element to the novel, and you have two diverse, hugely effective aspects that instantly catapulted this into my top five PA novels of all time. If I had to make any kind of complaint, it would be that I wanted a deeper layer of detail on the tech front. Almost at code level. But then, I'm an extremely greedy reader.


And on that note (code, not greed) Three reminded me a lot of Barnes' Artificial Evil. They both share that Mad Max feel with code running centrally and visibly through the narrative. I'd hazard the recommendation that if you've enjoyed one, you'll enjoy the other.


Lastly, grey-area heroes, is there ever anything more interesting? Killers, addicts, liars, runaways. All capable of noble beauty in their own way. I adore this book.

Swords of Good Men

Swords of Good Men (The Valhalla Saga) - Snorri Kristjansson

I was lucky enough to win an ARC of this one via Twitter, and was so looking forward to reading it. It looks and smells exactly like my cup of tea. Maybe that was a bad thing, because it always seems that when I'm absolutely dying to get my paws on something there's a somehow inevitable sense of disappointment when I actually dig in.


Swords of Good Men is one of the most disjointed, interrupted novels I've ever read. Within each chapter the action jumps from place to place several times, and in some cases each of these sections is just a paragraph long. I actually really enjoyed the action and the characters that were described in each location, but found it hugely frustrating to have to keep switching between them so fast. I found myself losing track of names and threads in the process. You could, of course, argue that this is simply because I'm a bear of very little brain, but it just isn't a style that suits me well at all. Imagine trying to watching three really good films at once, channel hopping between them, that's what the majority of this novel felt like to me. The content is fantastic, but the style nearly killed me. Are attention spans really so short now? Or is this some new literary trait that I'm just completely unaware of?  If this hadn't been a review copy, I would have been unlikely to have finished it, and that would have been a real shame because the absolute best of this one comes right at the end.


Style aside, Kristjansson's characterisation is outstanding. Many times through this one I was reminded of Gemmell, who will always be the master in my eyes when it comes to writing fantasy characters you can genuinely care about. If you like Gemmell, I suspect you'll also like Kristjansson. Sigurd is the epitome of a strong leader, and Valgard the healer is completely intriguing. It takes a good 160 pages until you find out just what he's all about. Thora is unforgettable and a great deal of fun. I see her in my head as a sort of female Brian Blessed with tourettes;


"Put some cock into it, you lazy mongrel shit-witted bastard whoresons!"


Audun is absolutely classic, and Harald is beautifully evil, if perhaps a little predictable.


There's a nice mix of town politics with wider issues, and Kristjansson connects the two well. My favourite aspect of the novel was the conflict between the Old Gods and The White Christ, that's an area that always fascinates me, and I'd recommend the novel purely on that point alone. I love to see how different authors deal with the same themes, and this is definitely one of the better explorations of the topic I've seen. As ever it's hard to do this without spoilers, but there's an image of King Olav in my head, up on the roof, desecrating some religious statues in a way that I won't forget anytime soon.


One aspect that I wasn't at all sold on was Ulfer's 'romance'. I didn't find his sudden attraction and subsequent character change convincing, and am curious to see what others make of it. It may just be that I have a heart of stone!


The raid towards the end of the novel is where everything starts to come together, and this jumped from a two to a four star read in the space of about fifty pages for me. The battle scenes are beautifully written, and the bag of tricks employed by the defenders is no end of fun. The last section of the novel attains a pace and consistency that I found missing previously, and it completely redeemed itself in my eyes. Everything is beautifully set up for the next book, which I will now be eagerly awaiting.


Kristjansson does an awful lot right in Swords of Good Men. He's not scared of a body count, and he's not afraid of a good old fashioned cliffhanger. His characterisation and world-building are hard to fault, and the clash of Gods within the novel is captivating. For me, the structure was the most questionable and damaging element. I would have much preferred to stay for longer spells with certain characters rather than the incessant jumping around that pervades the novel. But, that's just personal preference. Either way I was won over in the end.

The Shining

The Shining - Stephen King

I'm trying to think how old I would have been when I read this for the first time. I must have been either 14 or 15. It terrified me, genuinely terrified me, to the point where this is the first time I've re-read it since. And it's just terrified me again.


I've read a shed-load of horror in my time, and I'm very fond of some contemporaries who write in a completely different style to King. But re-reading The Shining has reminded me why King is, well, King when it comes to horror. It's the slow build, the atmosphere he painstakingly creates which completely draws you in. And once you're in, you can't get out until either your nerve breaks and you pull a Joey and stash the book in the freezer, or you make it through to the end and come out the other side a sweating, panic-stricken wreck.


The detail King packs in to this one is incredible, and that slow burn isn't going to be for everyone, especially in a market packed full of instant-start zombie thrillers that kick off in the middle of everything and require little or no background. Horror novels where gore is the hook and suspense barely features. Much as I love a fast, easy, gory read, The Shining has reminded me of the true meaning of horror. Late nights, completely immersed. Turning the bedside light out at 2 in the morning, and then turning it straight back on 'just to check' a strange shadow in the room. Then lying awake, trying to think of something else, anything else. I think using Danny as an example is the best way to explain it, it's that feeling you get when you're scared to walk past a fire extinguisher, no matter how crazy you know it is, no matter how stupid you feel, you just want to run like hell all the same.


The gorgeous new Hodder edition of this one proudly proclaims "Iconic Terror" on the spine, and that's exactly what you're getting. If you've never read it, you missed a rare treat. Don't go expecting instant action and full 3D blood and guts, but be prepared to experience a steady crescendo of fear that ends in full blown terror, and stays with you.

The Demi Monde: Winter

The Demi-Monde: Winter: Book I of the Demi-Monde - Rod Rees

If you're looking for a unique and ambitious blend of Cyberpunk, Steampunk, Historical, Dystopian, Sci-Fi, Fantasy madness, you have to check this out. Rees has created a fascinating premise here, and the novel more than lives up to its blurb. I've never read anything like this before, and I think Stephen Baxter's "Discworld's savage, noir cousin" quote is the most apt at describing what you can expect from the first novel in the Demi-Monde series.


You get to explore a virtual reality filled with Historical psychopaths, what could be better?!


I think, above all, a massive hats off to Rees is due here for the fact that he hasn't gone for the obvious figures, instead of the front men he's gone for the true architects behind some of the worst examples of humanity in history, giving us characters with a truly terrifying mix of prejudice, intolerance, cruelty and genius. This novel genuinely puts the "punk" into Cyber/Steampunk, by holding up a mirror to the ugliest aspects of humanity. It's both entertaining and soul destroying all at once.


Obviously, with a cast of characters like this, you're due a read filled with a blend of racism and sexism that is shocking. It is, in many ways,  like being hit repeatedly over the head with a mallet. It works, in its context, but there's an element of repetition that does get tiring after a few hundred pages. We get explanations of the terms used in the Demi-Monde in many different ways, and often an explanation really isn't necessary, the term and the context is enough. What you get as a reader is a blurb at the start of each chapter offering an explanation, an overt explanation in the narrative, a vocal explanation from one of the characters, and also...should you still be in any doubt, a glossary of terms at the back. It gets too much, and for me it lessened the impact of what are clever, sharp observations. The same goes for the endless Capitalisations To Make A Point. It's really not necessary. LessBienism, NuJus, HimPerialism, HerEticalism, I could go on, and on. From my perspective, if Rees had eased back a bit and given the reader a little more credit, his concepts could have had an even greater impact.


But, mallets aside, it was a fascinating read. As a blend of genres it worked really well for me, and it's nice to see something so ambitious in a genre when so many writers stick steadfastly to the tried and true. This is definitely one that stands out from the crowd. It's a little frustrating in places, not least at the end! If you're not a fan of cliffhangers, you're going to be irritated. Fortunately I have the second in the series to hand so I can dig into that straight away and start looking for answers.


Five stars for concept, four for execution. The Caps, the constant TLAs and the repetition knocked a star off what was otherwise a delight of a read.



I stand by that review after a second read, although I'm annoyed at myself for the smug "I have the second in the series to hand" comment as, currently, I don't! I left it at Mum's, and as she lives abroad, and it's a bloody big hardback, she won't send it before we go over there next!


In retrospect, I do wonder if I was harsh in knocking a star off. I struggle with the differing explanations of 'stars' between Amazon and Goodreads. I try to stick with GR as my standard, but I wish they'd let us use halves. This would be the perfect candidate for a 4.5. It's such a unique concept that it really does deserve a lot of love.


I know Rees has had some bad press recently regarding some comments that many people viewed as sexist, but if I'm honest here, half the time any of my favourite authors speak outside of fiction they say something that either disappoints me or winds me up. These days I try not to pay too much attention. Is a novel well written? Does it entertain me? Does it bring something fresh to my bedside table? If someone can score three yesses there then that's really all I'm interested in. As long as they're not, murdering kittens and posting footage on YouTube or anything. Of course, there are exceptions, Harris-gate being a notable example, but in that instance the woman swore at me on Twitter so I feel perfectly within my rights to withhold any more purchases! 9 times out of 10 though? water off a duck's back.  


The Demi-Monde is not for the faint of heart. Brace yourself for extreme fictional racism and sexism in the company of psychopaths. You will encounter, and I quote (just to be clear!) "Anglos, Slavs, nuJus, Shades, Polaks, Krauts, Russkis, Frogs, Eyeties, Wogs, Chinks, or Nips." In a world where, again I quote!; "Women should confine themselves to Feeding, Breeding and MenFolk Heeding." 


"The Demi-Monde is the most extreme and the most pernicious of dystopias." If you think you can survive it, you're in for a rare treat along the way. 


Hater - David Moody

David Moody is not only a hero of British Horror to me, but also a self-publishing role model. I absolutely love Hater and this is the second time I've read it as I now finally have the next two in the series to hand. I'll be cracking into Dog Blood as soon as I've hit 'publish' on this one.


There isn't much I can say about Hater that hasn't already been said many times, and it's not easy to talk about without spoilers, but I'll give it a go. Initially, I loved Danny. I feel for him, shitty job? money worries? kids? I'm there. But...with Danny it goes a bit further and he loses me. As an Everyman figure he starts out well but soon descends into the next level of self-pity, the one that loses sympathy and generates annoyance. He becomes the man too lazy to make things better, the man who shouts at his kids and takes his resentment of them a step too far. His disdain towards his family unsettled me far more than the physical violence portrayed within the novel. This bothered me the first time I read it, but now, second time around it works well given that I know what happens at the end. It all fits, the anger and the fear and the intolerance are all heading somewhere and when you hold this in mind it makes Danny work perfectly.


Hater is a very short, fast paced novel. Moody's writing is lean and you'll burn through this in an evening once it gets hold of you. It's fun, it's frightening, and it's guaranteed to make you think. Given the tension Moody builds up it's also guaranteed to give you heartburn. I loved it, twice, and I'm now about to head off and finish the series.

The Cambodian Book of the Dead

The Cambodian Book of the Dead - Tom Vater

This was a strange read. It's my first experience of Exhibit A, and they've definitely hit me up with something unique and unexpected. It's a million miles away from anything I've encountered in crime fiction before.


So, first off the bat it gets points for originality. Although there are a fair few comparisons to be drawn with Alex Garland's The Beach, this one eventually veers off in a completely different direction and fully earns its "Unique" badge by the end.


The main issue I had with The Cambodian Book of the Dead was the fact that it reads, for about 50% of the time, more like a travel guide/history title than fiction. I think for readers who have a connection to, or specific interest in Cambodia this will be absolute heaven, but for your average common or garden crime fan I'd hazard the opinion that this is going to drag in places. In fact, for me, the entire first half of the novel, although well-written, felt laggy and frustrating. If it hadn't been a review copy I doubt I would have finished it. I would've missed out if that had been the case because it does pick up massively in the second half, and the last 25% of the novel is full-on action and intrigue all the way. And there were some lovely touches thrown in, none of which I'm going to spoil for you. Except, I will own up to the fact that the girl assassins terrified me. We're talking actual nightmares. *Shudder*.


For me, Maier doesn't have enough in terms of character to make me want to read any further into the series. When I think of him, the first thing I think is "Vodka Orange", and the second is "History lesson". Neither really worked for me, and nor did the book as a whole. As I mentioned above though, if travel and history are your bag you'll find plenty to enjoy here.  It just wasn't for me.

Path of Needles

Path of Needles - Alison Littlewood

I absolutely could not put Path of Needles down. It was a complete joy of a read.


Crime fiction isn't usually my cup of tea, but Littlewood's novel is so original and exciting that it totally won me over. I've ordered A Cold Season now (normally I wouldn't go near anything with any reference to Richard & Judy on the cover!) I want more!


I really liked the idea of a 'bobby on the beat' getting a shot at the big time with such an unusual case, I thought that was a nice touch. And GREAT to see an independent female protagonist too, no "Kick Ass" (*shudder*) crop-topped heroine lusting after a buff, brooding male lead. In fact, there's none of that ridiculously sexist crap that Paranormal is so known for these days. Which made it an absolute pleasure to spend time with. Cate is such an 'everyman' character, struggling with her big break and not wanting to mess things up, common sense fighting with instinct, so aware of the consequences of a mistake. And perfectly capable of fighting her own battles and making her own decisions. Alice is a wonderful character too, so passionate about her subject, so dreamy and yet so focused. I'm going to miss her.


And of course, I've not even touched on the best of it yet. The Fairy Tale angle. I think it's going to be one that you'll either love or hate. I couldn't have loved it more. I was hooked on Fairy Tales growing up, and getting to read about them in an adult novel was wonderful. Terrifyingly wonderful. To see the darkness and the violence behind the well known children's tales was an education for me. It's such a meticulously researched novel, the tale variants are completely compelling, and the darkness and violence of these seemingly innocuous bedtime tales was fantastic material for one of the creepiest killers I've ever encountered in fiction. Truly red in tooth and claw.


Littlewood really got into my head. I walked my son down to the park about an hour after finishing this one, and we passed a house with an aviary in the back garden and a tree filled with bird feeders of every description, I panicked and sped the buggy up double time to get away from it, just in case! (You'll know when you read it).


If you're a fan of Fairy Tales, and you appreciate the darkness of their roots, you're going to love this book. I can't recommend it highly enough. Five stars no question.

The Quest for Juice

The Quest for Juice (Paranoia) - Jonathan-David Jackson

Jackson's The Quest For Juice was the first winner of my 'one per month' self-published review draw for July. I really shouldn't have read it this soon because there are at least forty-seven other things I'm meant to be doing, but I was so intrigued by it I picked it up and then couldn't put it down.


I'm miles out of my comfort zone with this title, in the sense that it's not the sort of thing I'd normally read, at all. When it comes to paranoia however, this is the perfect book for me! As someone who suffers from anxiety, The Quest For Juice hit me on several levels, and I was completely taken in and slow to see the twist coming. I was able to draw some really quite terrifying parallels between myself and Oscar, and this afternoon in the office I even found myself Googling the name of the drug he was taking.


Oscar's view on life is fascinating. To me, at least. I do wonder though, if readers who haven't had a brush with anxiety and paranoia of their own might falter. Having said that, parts of this read like some kind of  'for the masses' collaboration of Beckett and Pinter, and they work on any level, so, who am I to judge?


There's no doubt whatsoever that Jackson can write. This book is littered with sentences that are a pure delight;


"There were pieces of sentences you could still see on those abandoned papers; a lone noun here, an adverb lying forlornly there with no verb left to modify."


It is, as advertised, "Darkly comic" and surprisingly violent and disturbing in places.It's a hard title to review because, it's just so...out of the ordinary. Which is a Good Thing, don't get me wrong, but I'm struggling to find anything concrete to compare it to. It's essentially a simple, fast-paced, linear tale but what makes it stand out is Oscar's narrative voice. It's absolutely compelling in its charm.


Oscar's is a fresh voice, and a strong voice. There's an effortless style to him that makes him infinitely readable. In many ways this is the kind of title I can imagine gaining cult status, he's that strong a character. I know there's a second book in the works, but this doesn't stop me wanting more for the first one. It ends on a surprising revelation, and there are so many questions left unanswered that I felt a little lost and cheated. I'm sure Jackson will make this all better with the next instalment, but still, I'm suffering in the here and now!


The Quest For Juice is a short, straightforward read with a small cast of characters. You could argue that there's not a huge amount to get your teeth into. It's a captivating tale though, with a unique narrative voice and an interesting twist. I enjoyed it, and would happily recommend it to anyone looking for something off the beaten track, something fresh and unpredictable, and especially to anyone who's ever suffered from paranoia in any form.  Actually, maybe not anyone who suffers from it too badly, because it may lead to you looking twice at your prescription...

Artificial Evil, Colin F Barnes

Artificial Evil - Colin F. Barnes

First of all, let me wholeheartedly endorse the Blade RunnerMad Max and Exorcist mentions above. And I'm also going to throw in a heavy dose of The Matrix, a sprinkling of The Amtrak Wars and a hint of Neverwhere. If you enjoyed any of those, you should give Artificial Evil a go. And if you enjoyed all of them, you should DEFINITELY give Artificial Evil a go, right this minute, because you'll love it.


It's hard to know where to start with reviewing a title like this one. Unfortunately I don't have Gerry's skill with logic and data flow management, and having only just finished the novel my mere human brain is still processing the mass of information Barnes presented. It was a complete and utter roller-coaster ride of a read, packed with tech concepts that will merrily blow your mind when you try to unravel them. I had absolutely no idea where this was going and just sat back and let myself be led and entertained. It was such a cinematic read, the action and dialogue were outstanding, the pace was relentless and the world-building was innovative. A total Blockbuster of a read. Complete with a couple of nice shockers when it comes to twists.


The Matrix comparison is the easiest one to make here. Barnes presents a world where things aren't what they seem, where a comfortable existence comes heavily coated with deceit, and where getting to the truth is gritty, costly and completely brutal. Computer code is deep at the heart of everything within this novel, and if you're not at all familiar with coding and networking this isn't going to be your thing. That's probably a ridiculously obvious comment to make, I mean, I'm not big on trying to label something this innovative, but if I had to, I'd go for Cyberpunk. And you're not going to be picking up a Cyberpunk novel if you're not into computers at some level. At least in my experience. Whereas with The Matrix a lot of non-codey folk still enjoyed it on one level, with the visuals and general shininess of the franchise, with Artificial Evil Barnes goes pretty deep into Algorithms and programming concepts, the technology here is innovative and involved, and especially towards the latter part of the novel you'll struggle if you're not familiar with the basics ("Read up, code-monkey.") I work with computer code all day long, and malicious code at that, so I had a complete blast with the technology here.  I can also think of a couple of colleagues who are going to be adding this one to basket on Monday. I know not to recommend this to my Mum though, who loved the Matrix, but wouldn't get past the first 25% of this without getting baffled, distracted, and then disinterested ("You won't understand, and really I don't have the time to explain fully.")


The fusion of old and new was a nice touch here. I love to see 'outdated' technology being used to subvert the state of the art stuff, with a good added dose of inventiveness and intelligence ("like modern day alchemists.")  I always have, and always will. And I really enjoyed the notion of coded Evil being fought with coded 'Good' - I thought that was conceptually utter genius;


"Gabe was actually typing biblical commands to the demon: a piece of code, albeit an artificially intelligent piece of code. That idea raised its head again: had someone coded evil?"


The 'standards' of Post-Apocalyptic fiction are all here, or in this case, Post-Cataclysmic. (If it 'aint broke..) The ruling powers are all well and good provided that you're living under their roof and under their rules. Dare to be different in any way, or commit even the tiniest indiscretion, and it's Game Over. Barnes does a great job of portraying them as all-powerful and, initially, terrifying. I have to confess though, there is one aspect of their power..the ability of a patrol to swab Gerry's vomit on the street, DNA match him and convict him as a criminal without a jury...now I'd be lying if there wasn't a part of me that would love to see that implemented in Swindon of a Saturday night. Outside of the boundaries of the powers-that-be we have the standard 'world that shouldn't exist but does', in this case, The Abandoned Lands. Complete with "Hungry Natives". This is where the Mad Max comparison comes into play, and it's absolutely brilliant. The sub-cultures that exist out here, beyond the very fringes of society, are what made the novel for me. And it's where Barnes' writing really shines. His characters and his dialogue are so spot-on, it's just a pleasure to read. The subversion, the will and the innovation to survive, fantastically entertaining stuff ("This is the Wild West, Doc.")


There are so many positives to this novel. In the wonderful words of Enna "I've not been this excited since I made my first self-aware sexbot." I loved it. And my only complaint is that I want to know a lot more about the 2153 world. The only reason I've gone four stars instead of five (I'm not big on stars in general, but if I have to do it for GoodReads & Amazon I might as well explain myself) is that I thought in several places Barnes got a little too caught up in the technology, and the time and effort spent there made other parts of the novel feel a little rushed and cramped. It's so, so central to everything that other aspects were a little bit too marginalised for me. And of course a side-effect of this is that it will alienate some readers. It would've been nice if the tech element could have perhaps been diluted a bit to let others in and open the field up for some more world-building on a social and economic level. In fairness though I'm aware it's key to everything, and I'd imagine Barnes' blood would run cold at my 'dumbing down' dilution suggestion. It was, regardless, an exceptional read, and I will definitely be reading the sequel.

The Silver Ninja, Wilmar Luna

The Silver Ninja - Wilmar Luna

I've got to start with the obvious here, the cover art. It's not often I see a self-published novel with such eye-catching artwork, and Luna scores a big initial win on that front. Shallow though it may well be, covers sell books, and this is one that I would definitely pick up. Now, obviously it holds a certain appeal for the male audience! but as a female fan of both The Terminator and The Silver Surfer, I'd merrily put this one in my basket without much of a second thought.


The cover also does a good job of setting the tone for the novel. What you see is essentially what you get here, which is always refreshing. Fans of comic book superheroes and big screen futuristic blockbusters will, I'm sure, enjoy The Silver Ninja. Reading this one is essentially like watching a Superhero film; it's fast-paced and action-packed and doesn't require a huge amount of brain power. It's entertainment, pure and simple.


The strange thing with Superhero/Superpower style stories, is that they often don't tend to work well in novel form.  They're naturally much more the stuff of graphic novels, because obviously they're hugely visual, and this is where they have the greater impact. This is a trend that's starting to be bucked at the moment though, with the likes of Adam Christopher and Peter Clines both notably putting Superheroes firmly and cleverly into prose. And Luna joins them here in making a damn good job of it.


I loved The Silver Ninja. I had a lot of fun reading it, and although a hefty dose of suspension of disbelief is required at all times, this doesn't stop me enjoying the big Marvel Blockbusters so why should it stop me enjoying a novel? It would be unfair to approach the two with different mindsets I think. There were times when I found it hard to justify decisions that the protagonist here made, Luna consistently offers reasoning behind everything that Cindy does, but in some cases it's very, very thin reasoning that you wouldn't want to lean on too much. Oddly it wasn't the technology here, but the simple human responses and reactions that tested my belief. It didn't impact too seriously on my ability to enjoy the story though, there was too much going on for me to spend too long at any one point wondering "why?".


I thought that Cindy was a fantastic female protagonist. I really enjoyed the journey Luna sent her on, and I could personally identify so much with her reaction to the 'incident' on her way home (I don't want to go all spoilery if I can possibly help it). It's that moment when something happens that makes you realise you're not invincible, and that you're living in a world with some genuinely vile people in it. I think that's a moment that a lot of readers, perhaps female readers especially, will identify strongly with. It was great to see so many sides to her; the wit and banter between her and her Sister ("'roid rage" had me chuckling), the physical strength, the emotional frailty, the intense curiosity, and, essentially, the bravery and determination she displays. I thought the back story reveal was very nicely done, and her issues with food were, again, something so powerful in terms of connecting with readers and really showing us who she is and what she deals with internally. It's not often in SF I've seen a male writer write a female character so skilfully.


With regard to the military/government element, I don't want to keep reducing things down to 'Comic Book' material, but anyone familiar with the corrupt officials of many a popular comic book City will be perfectly at home here. I don't know that Luna brought much that's original to the table in this respect, but I'm not complaining in the slightest because I was enjoying a fully three dimensional female lead so much that I was glued to the pages regardless. There was no way I was going anywhere.


One thing Luna is remarkably good at is leaving little markers throughout the novel that tie beautifully into later elements of the story. It shows a genuinely well-considered, well-structured plot, and is one way in which he shows me as a writer that he knows exactly what he's doing. My only disappointment was that at one point I think he put in a single marker too many, in relation to Ruby, which took the edge of the Big Twist at the end a little for me. I don't mean to be all mysterious and coy, but I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read the book yet.


Stylistically, Luna's writing is a little unpolished. He's very heavy handed with his similes, they are everywhere! For the most part they tended to be original and really quite impressive, there are some real gems! but there were just so many of them that they lost their impact. I would love to see him limit himself in his next book, to, say...no more than 10..just pick your absolute favourites and then let us enjoy them without having to wade through them. I found his tenses got a little mixed at times, and his phrasing, whilst mostly good could occasionally get clumsy and stilted. For a debut novel though, the writing was solid, and his pacing and engagement was impressive. If he does indulge in a second novel, which I'm hoping for from the end of this one, I would expect to a lot of these minor niggles to be ironed out.


Overall? This is definitely a title I would recommend. It's light, and fast, but it has some unexpectedly complex themes which give it a depth you might not be expecting. If you can let that disbelief have a night off, and forgive a touch of debut author awkwardness, you'll have a lot of fun with this book.

Anarchy, James Treadwell

Anarchy - James Treadwell

Anarchy is, like its predecessor, an absolutely outstanding read. Treadwell writes so uniquely that I can't think of anyone to compare him to. The best I can do is to suggest taking a large pinch of Charles de Lint, drizzling liberally with Stephen King and sprinkling with just a hint of Laini Taylor. If you think that sounds tasty, you'll love him. Promise.


Anarchy follows straight on from the end of Advent. If you've not read Advent yet, you definitely need to before picking this one up (and, why haven't you read it? It's amazing) as otherwise it's not going to make an ounce of sense. This was actually a huge plus for me because absolutely no time was wasted in recaps or summaries, which made a nice change. It's straight in and on with the story. I love that!


Initially, I have to confess, I missed Pendurra. Most of the first half of Anarchy is set in Northern Canada, and it's beautifully described and a nice contrast. But, I was missing Cornwall. I'm a chronic creature of habit, and much as I did enjoy the new setting and characters, Pendurra is the heart of the series for me. Getting back there at last was like coming home. Although the circumstances in which we return are so, so different to when we left.


Treadwell's Canadian characters are vividly imagined. I adored Jonas, and 'Goose' was fascinatingly complex. My only problem with her was that each time I read the name Goose my brain went 'Top Gun' and I could hear 'Take my breath away'. Every single time. My 80's obsessions aside, the female characters are written brilliantly. Really, genuinely brilliantly. Forget any of the usual crap by those supposed 'kick-ass' heroine devotees that both YA and the fantasy genre are so riddled with, Treadwell writes fully three dimensional heroines bursting with soulful, heartfelt, emotional complexity. It completely blows my mind that this is, technically, fiction for older teens. It's the perfect antidote to all those YA authors who dumb everything down and write at the lowest common denominator. This, this is YA you can be stupidly proud of your kids reading. And make sure you borrow it after them.


As with Advent, pacing is going to be a bit of a love it or hate it situation here. If you like a slow burn to your fiction, and you enjoy scenes bursting with detail, characters heavy with emotion, and you like the idea of a steady build of cleverly understated menace, you will love Anarchy. And if you don't, you have no idea what you're missing. At times it can feel like on the surface little is happening, but there's always so much going on under the hood. Treadwell is a genius when it comes to sinking his hooks into you without you even realising it. The journey is every bit as fantastic as the destination here.


It's a massively emotional read. I wasn't sure how the technological aspects to the novel would be handled, but I needn't have worried. The effect ancient magic has on current technology is completely chilling, and brings a whole new layer of terror into the mix. It's genuinely frightening to watch the magic spread and see the effect it has on our world. The Post Apocalyptic aspects to this were a real treat, and so, so well done.


For me, Anarchy was total a win-win situation. I did, eventually, get a dose of all my favourites from Advent, and I got some incredible new characters on incredible new journeys thrown in for good measure. I honestly can't find a bad word to say about it. It captivated me, terrified me, delighted me, shocked me, and at one point even had me in tears.


James Treadwell should, in my humble opinion, be immediately elevated to the status of National Treasure. If you've never read him, go and get yourself a copy of Advent and book a couple of days off work. 

Atlantis Revelation

Atlantis: Revelation - Marcus  Blake

The first thing to point out is that this reads very much like YA, but doesn't seem to be marketed as such. That had me a little off-balance. To me, it's a YA version of the Da Vinci Code that's had Christianity extracted and Atlantis added. There's a generous sprinkling of Indiana Jones thrown in, and the whole thing has been left to simmer, before being lightly seasoned with Clive Cussler to serve.

It's a fun read. Kind of like a Blockbuster film, you need to be fully prepared to suspend your disbelief for a few hours and just let yourself be entertained. There's a hot teenage lead with a body 'like a Greek God', an attractive, fearless female sidekick, a secret, ruthless government agency, a mad professor, vague prophecies, High Priests, a secret Nazi facility, a bloody big sea serpent, magic crystals and, best of all, an all night Zombie film fest.

If you're looking for anything meaningful or emotional, this isn't what you're after. If you just want to have some fun with a hot lad with gills and a lot of helicopter action, this is just the ticket. It's fast-paced and instantly engaging, and has an ending which sets up book two beautifully.

For me, it lost some of its appeal in the later stages. I found Erebos' mass Atlantean info-dump to be a bit clumsy, and I got frustrated with the number of times the 'do what we say or the girl gets it' get-out was used. But on the whole, it was enjoyable, much more so than I would've thought!

A great read for teenage lads I'd imagine, lots of video-game style action to enjoy.

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