Friday, June 24, 2022

 What I Learned From. . .



The Wisdom of Crowds

I’ve been following the Age of Madness trilogy for the last couple of years, and have to say; so far, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. Joe Abercrombie writes heroically proportioned fantasy, and to see this one end will leave a void, hard to fill.

So, let’s set the scene for this concluding tale:

******

Chaos. Fury. Destruction.

The Great Change is upon us . . .

Some say that to change the world you must first burn it down. Now that belief will be tested in the crucible of revolution: the Breakers and Burners have seized the levers of power, the smoke of riots has replaced the smog of industry, and all must submit to the wisdom of crowds.

With nothing left to lose, Citizen Brock is determined to become a new hero for the new age, while Citizeness Savine must turn her talents from profit to survival before she can claw her way to redemption. Orso will find that when the world is turned upside down, no one is lower than a monarch. And in the bloody North, Rikke and her fragile Protectorate are running out of allies . . . while Black Calder gathers his forces and plots his vengeance.

The banks have fallen, the sun of the Union has been torn down, and in the darkness behind the scenes, the threads of the Weaver's ruthless plan are slowly being drawn together . . .

******

Now, THAT’s the way to capture the imagination. And that phrase; “. . . all must submit to the wisdom of crowds.” It’s perfect. Because as we all know –and as history so poignantly testifies – when the mob runs riot, the last vestiges of humanity are often cast aside in favor of a brand of ‘wisdom’ that is as foul as it is tyrannical, to say the least.

And – No Spoilers – that’s exactly what you get in this story.

The trouble with change is that the goalposts are always shifting. One man’s rise becomes another man’s fall; someone’s gain, the other’s loss. And the actual extent of the change itself? Well, you’re on unsettled ground from the outset, as what some will view as going way too far, will never be enough for those conditioned to rebel. Yes, rumbling of the Great Change echoes throughout the length and breadth of the Union, and far into the north. War ravages the land. No one is safe. What’s lawful & expected today, becomes villainous and repulsive the next. Duplicity, disloyalty, deceit. All become the norm. Far from bringing peace and harmony, the Change brings nothing but fear and reprisals; unrest and discontent. And those who are supposed to set the example are far from innocent.

Abercrombie encapsulates this seismic instability from the outset. The intrigue is as nail biting as it is callous; the betrayals as inevitable as they are a complete surprise; the battles as vividly visceral as they are visionary in scope. A great deal happens during this novel – to a lot of people – but not once do you lose the threads of a story arc that is as brutally brilliant as it is barbaric and bloodthirsty. Yet here’s the thing. We may be delving into a work of fantasy, yet Abercrobie captures the fickle nature of man’s inhumanity to man – and revels in it so well – that you can actually relate to how his characters think and act, bringing it into the realms of reality.

My only criticism is that, for such a maestro of plot construction and execution, Abercrombie seemed to condense the conclusion of the story? It seemed rushed, somehow, as if he was eager to get to the end. Don’t get me wrong, there are all the usual final ‘plot twists’ and ‘reveals’ that always add a satisfying heat to his spicy servings of mishap and mayhem. But I don’t know, I was left wanting. . .

Until I trod cautiously into the last chapter, that is.

Fans of Abercrombie know that he will sprinkle a few seeds in all sorts of innocuous places as the story develops. Then he’ll ‘forget’ about them . . . until it’s time to dig them up, waggle them in your face, and stuff you down your throat. (NO SPOILERS – but you get an example of this near the end of the book, in a bittersweet moment when Black Rikke relates back to one of her earlier Long Eye visions, and how it’s eventual fulfillment always baffled her. Until . . . ?)

Well, thank the gods of death and destruction, if Rikke/Abercrombie does it again in the very last chapter. As I say, no spoilers. But you’ll see what I mean when you get there.

As such, I suspect this might not be the last we see of Midderland?

Bring it on!



Thursday, June 9, 2022

 How About THIS
For a Gem of a Story?


The Darkest Sin

When I take a break from my usual literary diet of sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, and straight out horror, I always seem to swing toward a good thriller. Imagine my joy, then, when I came across the blurb for The Darkest Sin, the first in Jeff Crawford’s The Gun Hand Series:

*************

One-time drifter, Walsh Ritter, suddenly finds he has a taste and talent for doing the things most would never consider, being a gun hand… a killer for hire. Having the requisite skills and a lack of conscience propels him to the top of the pile of men who do this type of work. A small fortune is offered to him by a ruthless mining baron, but the cost to his sensibilities is too high.

In a wasteland area of Texas known as the hardpan, a man lives in isolation waiting for the final piece of a deranged puzzle to appear. Bascom Isley was banished from the monastery for his insane and heretical theories.

An innocent, but grave and horrible mistake on the part of Bascom, will force Walsh Ritter to not only confront a darkness from his past but become allied with the man he wants to kill so badly when the Mexican power-hungry warlord William Victorrio is pulled into this nightmarish triangle. Only in the final standoff will you see the depths of evil that men are capable of.

*************

I don’t know about you, but when I stray into those genres I don’t often get to play in, I love being surprised. It’s like panning for gold in a brand-new river. And in The Darkest Sins, I hit the lodestone, as I found it to be an immersive, complex, and rather intriguing story.

As the blurb highlights, Walsh Ritter is a man who knows and accepts what he is. A killer, whose moral compass was smashed long ago. The thing is, he happens upon a job that reveals he might not be the heartless executioner he thought he was. And in his world, THAT leads to complications. Complications that see this steely, relentless, self disciplined and methodical predator reduced to nothing more menacing than impotent prey. A victim who ends up at the mercy of a deranged madman.

Now, I’ve been careful not to give too much away. However, what I will say is that the best psychological thrillers are those where the maelstrom of your own imagination is allowed to amp up the terror; the darkness; the fearful fascination of what comes next. And Jeff Crawford manages to hit that balance in a skillful way, as the scars of Ritters life and past mistakes are picked open, rubbed raw, and liberally doused in ant-riddled salt.

This really is a journey of self-discovery. One where you accompany Ritter in taking each bloody, crushed glass in the soles of your feet step as he struggles to free himself from a nightmare made flesh.

A gem worth digging for.



Thursday, June 2, 2022

 See My Review Of. . .


The Dawning

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m drawn to those books where the author or subject matter covers a topic I’m familiar with or can relate to on a personal level. In this case, Ezekiel Kincaid’s experiences with the supernatural. Obviously, I was interested to see how those experiences would translate into his story . . .

So, let’s set the scene:

*************

On a cold November night in 1817, a seven-year-old girl named Theodosia Whitefield finds a door leading to another world. She feels a pull towards a dark, celestial being who beckons her, and senses his presence growing each day. In an old rocking chair by her bed, a seeming friend appears and helps her navigate through this new world.

Little by little, Theo's innocence changes as the dark creature edges closer to her reality. The little girl begins to grow into something sinister and evil. Shedding her youth and innocence, her demon friend paves the way for Theodosia to meet the entity named Tetromet, The two meet and the horror and madness blossom in Theo, leading to unprecedented depths of terror.

The charming countryside of North Carolina makes the backdrop for the insanity and evil emanating from this child. She wreaks havoc on her family and friends as her power grows. It all comes to an insidious, nightmarish end, with questions of faith, sanity and above all, God and evil.

*************

And what did I think?

Well, I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I can tell you that.

If you’ve ever encountered what lies beyond the veil of everyday life, you can spot the telltale signs a mile off. And Kincaid’s knowledge rings with a bona fide edge, adding an additional layer of truth to his story that is so often missing in other books of this genre.

And when it comes to little Theodosia? We become deeply involved in her evolution: the normal everyday setting in which events unfurl; her seeming na├»ve innocence; her sensitivity to nature and the environment; the dreams that spike her curiosity; her dogged persistence to find out what it all means; a hypnotic fixation on the doorway once it’s revealed; surfacing doubts and fears; the gradual change in behavior as the darkness lurking within her is fed and allowed to flourish.

No, you can’t hide who you are in your secret heart, especially if you want the chrysalis to metamorphose into what it’s meant to be.

The Dawning. Intriguing. Compelling. Enigmatic. And a most satisfying journey through the realms of the bizarre and unexplained that will appeal to the child in all of us. You know. The one who isn’t content to take strange things at face value. Because if you’re one of those who have just got to dig, you’ll appreciate the authenticity of what you read.

As did I

And I look forward to seeing how Theodosia’s transition continues.




Friday, May 27, 2022

 What Did I think of my Stay at. . .
Turnstone Manor?



The Rooms of Turnstone Manor

As I’ve mentioned before, I love it when a story has that certain something I can connect with from the outset. In this case, we have a wonderful twist on the usual ‘haunted house’ theme. A subject that I have something of a soft spot for, having spent eight years of my early childhood living in such a dwelling.

But a haunted hotel? Aha, that’s taking it up another level.

*************

Upon his arrival at Turnstone Manor, Terry Peters is instantly intrigued by the mysterious history of the grey-stone mansion turned bed and breakfast. Visiting the town of Miller’s Cove for a friend's wedding, he is determined to make the best of a vacation that has started out as less than ideal. His stay soon turns nightmarish however, when he makes a gruesome discovery in the home's library. Even more sinister and fantastical secrets are to be revealed to him within the manor's warped walls and twisted hallways, until he is uncertain of whom he can trust among Turnstone's peculiar occupants. Will he escape the strange plague which haunts the mansion, or will he succumb to it, unable to trust even his own sanity?

*************

So, what’s on the menu?

Something rather tasty. That’s what.

After tempting us with a little spice at the beginning, Erica Schaef then winds back a little and introduces us to the town of Miller’s Cove in a straightforward, ‘conversational’ way that allows you to settle in and get comfy. Only then does she start to develop the main course of her story. And I really enjoyed that. The characters are instantly relatable; the scenes evocative of holidays and short breaks spent in quaint hotels; the dialogue easy to follow. And the plot? Oh, there are all sorts of tasty, bite-sized things going on, but they’re developed at a measured pace that allows you to keep track of who’s who, what’s where, and most importantly, what’s coming. Yes, the mounting anticipation of skullduggery is a delightful condiment that Schaef sprinkles into the story ark in a way that makes you want to keep coming back for more.

I read and review a lot of books, and The Rooms of Turnstone Manor reminded me in some ways of certain aspects of Jeannette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun, as Schaef manages to encapsulate the same moody, evocative, almost claustrophobic atmosphere here, that makes her story such a success.

Well worth a read. And please, bring on another course!




Friday, May 20, 2022

 There's No Second-Guessing What I think of. . .




Afterthoughts


This is another of those reviews, long in the waiting.

As I mentioned last week, I first met Lynn Tincher’s – Detective Paige Aldridge – back in February in The Devil’s Mark, a crossover horror/thriller incorporating Tony Acree’s Hand of God, Victor McCain. Having thoroughly enjoyed that outing, I was determined to find out more about those characters, starting last week with McCain, and this week, with Aldridge herself in her opening adventure: Afterthoughts.

So, what can we expect?

*************

Detective Paige Aldridge’s family is prey for a serial killer. Desperate to help her sister, she is determined to find out who is behind it all. After being the victim of a kidnapping, she is traumatized by memories she does not know she has. She sees visions of the murders and believes she is followed by someone she’s only seen in the shadows. Trying to run from her dreams, she is sent spiraling down a path of self-doubt, fear, and betrayal. Paige finds an unlikely friend that tries to help her by telling her unbelievable things. Teamed up with her partner, Jay, she tries to put all of the pieces together. Are all of these things connected? Will Jay believe in her and most importantly will Paige believe in herself? Can she get her thoughts together before it’s too late?

*************

Nice premise eh? Well, it gets even better . . . because what initially appears to be a straightforward set of tragic deaths, quickly become much more complicated. Complicated, in an eerie 'I'm out to get you' stalker kinda way. As the blurb highlights, Paige starts seeing visions of the deaths, and at the same time, notices someone watching her? Suspicions roused, she begins to dig deeper. But every time Paige does so, she either loses interest or starts feeling unwell.

Coincidence?

She soon finds out, as these ‘coincidences’ become much more focused, making her feel as if she’s the target of a personal vendetta. But how could that be? As far as she’s aware, nobody holds a grudge against her. And why would they? She’s honest. Fair. Doesn’t cut corner s or take liberties.

Nevertheless, someone’s got it in for her.

And without spoiling the story arc, what we get is a neat, compact, murder-mystery-supernatural whodunit that transitions through a series of revelations very nicely. I particularly liked the way Paige Aldridge’s vulnerabilities were not only highlighted, but played upon, as it paints a much more believable picture of how events would unfold if this happened to someone for real.

A most satisfying introduction to what I’m sure will be a great ‘new’ series.




Wednesday, May 18, 2022

 Stand Together



Some of my followers may not be aware of the fact that, along with writing novels and short stories, I also dabble in poetry from time to time. (Take a look at the lower portion of the right-hand sidebar under Other Works, and you'll get an idea of the publications I've managed to get some of my prose listed in.

However, I recently managed to have two of my poems accepted in a work that was put together with the idea of donating all the proceeds to those living in the Ukrane who have been intimately affected by the war there. (A worthy cause, as I'm sure you'll agree).

And THIS is a little interview compiled by The Library of Erana regarding that contribution.

Why not click on the link and find out more?


Friday, May 13, 2022

 See My Review of. . .

The Hand of God



The Hand of God

Those of you who follow my blog will have been expecting this review. . .

I can’t believe it was back in February when I read and reviewed “The Devil’s Mark” a crossover collaboration between authors Tony Acree and Lynn Tincher. As you’ll remember, I really enjoyed that book, and especially the way the main protagonists – Victor McCain and Paige Aldridge – worked together in foiling plots most foul. I also mentioned that I would endeavor to get to know said protagonists better, even if it meant ‘going back in time’ as it were, to the beginning of their respective journeys to find out how everything began.

And here we are, in Tony Acree’s The Hand of God, the opening adventure introducing us to Victor McCain (You’ll have to wait until next week to re-acquaint with Detective Paige Aldridge).

Here’s the blurb:

*************
Bounty hunter Victor McCain always wondered how his brother, Mikey, went from down-n-out loser to one of Louisville’s richest men. Now he knew: his brother sold his soul to the Devil. And in twenty-four hours, Mikey would die and spend eternity in Hell unless Victor agreed to hunt down a thief, a woman as deadly as she is beautiful. On a journey of murder and betrayal, Victor must now put his own soul at risk to save his only brother, battle a dark underground organization with the goal of nothing less than global war between Christians and Muslims, and fight creatures from man’s darkest nightmares. Then there’s the Hand of God, God’s own bounty hunter. In the end, will he be friend or enemy? Only Heaven knows.

*************

So, what do you get?

A roister-doister thrill ride. That’s what. And it opens, oh so calmly.

Imagine . . . Victor McCain is sitting in his office, going about business as usual, when a new client walks in with a job offer he can’t refuse. That new client just so happens to be the Devil, you see. And the job? Oh, that involves saving his brother’s – Mikey McCain’s – life, and hopefully, his soul as well. But at the expense of someone else.

Not the kinda offer you turn down, even if it is at someone else’s expense. Or is it?

Victor’s not a guy you want to cross. He’s worn around the edges, true. But before he became a bounty hunter he was something of a hunter-killer, employed on special missions abroad to track down and eliminate bad guys. He’s sharp too. He notices the little details that matter. And no sooner does he start to look into this new assignment than alarm bells start ringing. Alarms bells that shoot back and warn of double, triple, and even quadruple-crosses galore.

And THAT makes him determined to find out what’s really going on.

What follows is an ever evolving/devolving runaway action-thriller that leads Victor ever deeper into a diabolical under underworld hiding in plain sight among society. And it all takes place in twenty-four hours!

As you can imagine, the pace is frantic and events do become chaotic. However, Acree keeps a tight rein on his plot delivery, so that while developments do tend to run away from Victor McCain, you can keep track of the chaos he faces. Overall, everything is well thought out, and delivered in a slick and polished style that keeps you engaged throughout. Even better, the dialogue is sharp – I especially liked McCain’s inner turmoil/thoughts as the truth finally dawns on him – and though this is clearly an action thriller, it manages to get you thinking about deeper, philosophical issues over the supposed eternal battle between good and evil.

I liked it. And look forward to seeing how McCain becomes the man we see in the Devil’s Mark.




Amazon Review