Thursday, March 30, 2023

 This Was No Hit & Miss Affair. . .

Dead Close

I can’t emphasize enough how much I enjoy stories that are that little bit different. Stories that are unpretentious, yet subtle enough to grab your attention from the outset. And in Dead Close by Mark Robinson, that’s exactly what you get.

Take a look at the blurb, and you’ll see why it caught my discerning eye:


Following a power outage in the dead of night, the residents of a leafy cul-de-sac mysteriously vanish. Amongst the missing are Eve Parker’s aunt and uncle. Desperate for answers, Eve starts digging into the history of Roanoke Road with the help of her friends, who host a true crime podcast series. What they discover could not only put them in harm’s way but also make this their last podcast, ever. . .


And this modest intro leads into one of the best murder/mystery/horror whodunnits I’ve read in a long time. Seriously . . . it’s THAT good.

What helps elevate this story is the fact that Robinson keeps to a simple formula:
Keep things short and sweet.
So, you’ll find the mystery starts from the very first chapter. And once you’re hooked, the breadcrumbs start to trail through the story arc. You are led from character to character; victim to victim; crumb to crumb, with the occasional revelation thrown in.

But never too much. Never too quickly.

It’s quite exquisite how Robinson establishes a thread, allows it to tighten, and then moves on to the next facet of his story, only to repeat the process again. In doing so, he gradually tightens the overall theme and brings the larger picture into focus. (Think of the way some people start a jigsaw by establishing a perimeter, and then work their way inward).
Each chapter is concise; it plays into the overall premise; and it keeps you involved from beginning to end. The pacing, the characters, the delivery . . . it all works beautifully.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, and am sure you will too.

Amazon Link

Thursday, March 23, 2023

 There's No Chance of Slowing Down For. . .

Velocity Weapon

As my followers know, there are few things I like better than an ‘unconventional’ space opera. You know; stories that span the galaxy in scope, and yet manage to hang on to those old-fashioned values that make us what we are. Human(ish). And in Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe, you get exactly that. . .

Though the blurb doesn’t give much away:


The last thing Sanda remembers is her gunship exploding.

She expected to be recovered by salvage-medics and to awaken in friendly hands, patched-up and ready to rejoin the fight. Instead she wakes up 230 years later, on a deserted enemy starship called The Light of Berossus - or, as he prefers to call himself, 'Bero'.

Bero tells Sanda the war is lost. That the entire star system is dead.

But is that the full story? After all, in the vastness of space, anything is possible . . .


As usual, I’m going to be very careful about giving anything away regarding plot development. I’ll leave that to O’Keefe and her story. But what I will reveal is that she lays out the threads of her story so that it can be told from three main perspectives. Then, as events unfurl, you’ll see how she begins to tighten those threads until it begins to knot into a coherent whole. (Remember that, because this first book is just the beginning of something special).

And it’s cleverly done, we’re not only introduced to an intergalactic society set in the far distant future, but we also see how humanity remains divided by the same old hang-ups we’ve always had.

There’s interplanetary political intrigue aplenty. Forbidden tech in the wrong/right hands. Hidden subtext. Space action and hi-jinks. Sound world building and character development, where the theme of familial ties and loyalty abounds. And it’s all delivered in a beautifully crafted, superbly executed and down to earth way that gets you involved from the outset.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. And for me, what I particularly liked was the way O’Keefe leads you along a particular path, only to trip you up with an unexpected plot-twist. And then another. AND another! (It really is that good).

Buuut that’s not all. As the plot thickens and certain revelations are made and laid to rest, she also manages to sow the seeds of future developments that you know will be addressed in later books. And THAT’s good storytelling. Because with something this complex, it takes time to tell the story properly. And I really appreciate the author who doesn’t rush, allows the story to set its own pace, and teases you with even more diabolical machinations to come.

Excellent stuff! I can’t wait to see what happens . . . and really, isn’t that the reaction every author should try to elicit from their readers?

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

 See How I Navigated The Dangers Of. . .

The House of Styx

Those of you who follow my blog know how much I loved the Quantum Evolution Series, as I found the universe in which it was set, as innovative as it was inspiring.

Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered Derek Künsken is currently in the middle of a number of prequels to that work, set 250 years before the events portrayed in The Quantum Magician.

Here’s the blurb to The House of Styx, the very first Venus Ascendant novel.


Life can exist anywhere. And anywhere there is life, there is home.

In the swirling clouds of Venus, George-Étienne and his children are one of a few families of la colonie living on floating plant-like trawlers, salvaging what they can in the fierce acid rain and crackling storms. Outside is deadly for the unprepared or unwary, but the planet’s atmosphere is far from the only threat a family can face.

For the surface of Venus carries its own secrets, too. In the depths, there is a wind that shouldn’t exist. For George-Étienne and the House of Styx, harnessing it may be worth risking all.


As fans of The Quantum Evolution series will know, the Vesuvian Congregate was a pivotal power throughout colonized space. A political power, with the punch to influence just about anyone they wanted. But here, in this story, Venus is the poor man’s version of a rough and ready hick town.

Yes, mankind has managed to settle in the volatile environment of the upper atmosphere of Earth’s nearest neighbor, but life is far from easy. Existence is hard. So hard, that dogmatic routine – of check, check, and check again – is the key to survival. The slightest exposure to Venus’ toxic atmosphere will burn you; the smallest misstep will send you plummeting into the crushing depths of the lower atmosphere; the tiniest inclination to relax your guard will set of a series of catastrophes that get you killed.

Yet people have not only set up a colony here, they’re doing their best to thrive . . . if owing the Bank of Pallas an ever-extending debt from which you’ll never be free is your idea of thriving. And it’s into this cauldron of fomenting menace that we look in on the D’Aquillon’s, a family who were part of the original settlers who took the chance of making Venus their home.

But as I mentioned, life isn’t easy. The banks are always out to make a profit. They even have a controlling influence on the distribution of medicines and spare parts, vital for survival. And if you don’t toe the line, then you just might discover that Venus becomes your grave. This creates something of a division between the settlers. There are those who do prosper – to a degree – the kowtows and the lackeys, who do exactly what the Bank of Pallas wants. They get the better, more sophisticated habitats higher up in the atmosphere where it’s safer.

Families like the D’Aquillon’s, however, live deeper down, in floating, plantlike homes where thunder and lightning rages, and death is only a stuttering heartbeat away. But what do you expect when your whole economy is based on salvaging what you can from the endless storms that churn Venus’ atmosphere into a frothing rage?

And then the D’Aquillon’s make a remarkable discovery. One that will guarantee a future free from debt and the controlling fist of oppression.

Regardless, if the wrong people find out, then not only will the bank step in and take their discovery from them, but the D’Aquillon’s may very well find themselves arrested on trumped-up charges, or even killed.

Now, what that find is, exactly, you’ll have to uncover for yourself.

But you’ll be glad you did, as Künsken’s immersive style will allow you to ‘connect’ with the every-day-in-day-out struggle the D’Aquillon’s must endure to simply eke out a living. And that endurance is what makes them special. Yes, they’re flawed. Their personalities often create as much friction as the storm clouds in which they live. But being downtrodden and ignored and rejected for so many years has made them tough. Self-reliant and determined. Resilient. So much so, that when a golden opportunity comes their way, they have just the right qualities and skills to make a daring plan work.

And I thoroughly enjoyed how Künsken put that across in this story. We delve into what makes people tick. What motivates them. What makes one person stand up and be counted when it matters, while others fold. It’s about loyalty and unity. And, quite simply, it’s yet another fine example of how good old-fashioned sci-fi should be written.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

 This Week, I've Been Braving. . .

Deadly Ground

I rather enjoyed the first installment of the Base Fear series – Deadly Secrets – by S.C. Fisher, involving the Daniels family and their move into a military married quarter ay Ynys Mon, Wales, following dad’s new posting in the RAF. As we discovered, the house comes with a rather sinister history. One that begins to bleed into their everyday lives and take over.

Of course, that story set the scene for what now takes place in Deadly Ground. And as the blurb highlights, events take a dramatic twist and become much more menacing.


It wasn’t just the house. Something else stalked her family; something ancient and relentless.

In book two of the Base Fear series, (the sequel to Deadly Secrets), Paige Daniels must wage war against the entity that has staked a claim on her family, or lose her loved ones forever. With her little brother, Griffin, and her friend, Ben, by her side, can Paige unearth the final secrets her new home guards?

Time is running out, and this ground is deadly.


Once again, S.C. Fisher’s knowledge of military procedure comes to the fore.

As the unknown entity haunting their home starts to emerge more fully, the family is thrown into a panic. But what to do? This IS a military home, after all, and certain protocols have to be followed. But when those protocols fail to help in any way, it’s left to Paige and her brother – and close friend, Ben – to do what they can to stay alive and prevent an ancient evil from taking root and spreading.

As you can imagine, the pace of this second story steps up a gear, and maintains an intensity that has you rooting for Paige and Co as things turn from bad to worse. Folk law and myth are also combined with the actual history of the story’s setting – Llyn Cerrig Bach – a place where ancient relics were discovered during WW II dating back more than 2000 years. So kudos there, because mixing reality/history with fiction is a surefire way to strengthen any story with a foundation that will pull the reader in and involve them in the magic from the word go.

Great fun!

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

This Book Really Cut Me Up.

See My Review Of. . .

My Heart is a Chainsaw

As followers of my blog will know, I’m absolutely ‘stacked’ when it comes to my read and review list. So much so, that sometimes I don’t have time to scour the internet for fresh ideas. Especially those that will fit my ‘quirky’ preferences. However, THAT’s where Black Gate Fantasy comes in, as the staff there have an eye for spotting things that will appeal to my particular tastes.

Just look at the blurb for My Heart is a Chainsaw:


Jade is one class away from graduating high-school, but that's one class she keeps failing local history. Dragged down by her past, her father and being an outsider, she's composing her epic essay series to save her high-school diploma.

Jade's topic? The unifying theory of slasher films. In her rapidly gentrifying rural lake town, Jade sees the pattern in recent events that only her encyclopedic knowledge of horror cinema could have prepared her for. And with the arrival of the Final Girl, Letha Mondragon, she's convinced an irreversible sequence of events has been set into motion.

As tourists start to go missing, and the tension grows between her community and the celebrity newcomers building their mansions the other side of the Indian Lake, Jade prepares for the killer to rise. She dives deep into the town's history, the tragic deaths than occurred at camp years ago, the missing tourists no one is even sure exist, and the murders starting to happen, searching for the answer.

As the small and peaceful town heads towards catastrophe, it all must come to a head on 4th July, when the town all gathers on the water, where luxury yachts compete with canoes and inflatables, and the final showdown between rich and poor, past and present, townsfolk and celebrities slasher and Final Girl.



So, we have all the ingredients of an absolute gem here.

Jade Daniels is something of a social misfit, both at school and within her local community. Her dad’s a deadbeat drunken bum; her mother’s absent; nobody gives a damn about her. And to top it all off, she walks the proverbial tightrope by retreating into a blood-tinted haven in which 1980’s horror movies color her perspective. But that’s how she copes, by viewing the world about her and all its pressures through a lens of grime and gore.


Weird eh?


Well, it would be, except for the fact that Jade is a walking library when it comes to the horror genre. She knows everything. All the twists and turns. All the feints. All the clichés and tropes. So much so, that when the everyday drudgery of life is suddenly jarred by a number of unexpected deaths, Jade becomes convinced she can see the link. There’s a serial killer on the loose. A killer who is no doubt preparing for a grand, July 4th slasher-fest finale.


The thing is, nobody believes her when she tries to tell them what’s coming. So how the hell will she convince the authorities that they have to do something?


Well, as I found out, this is a story of two halves. Or more accurately, a story of 99.5% Awesome and 0.5% What the hell?


Let me explain. . .


Jones’ knowledge of the horror genre is encyclopedic, giving his main character an undeniable depth that makes you just want to dive in and help her. Yes, Jade’s a rebel. She’s an oddball who deliberately tests the boundaries of what’s acceptable. But she also has a heart of gold. She wants to help an unwilling and undeserving community from a fate worthy of the most horrendous bloodbath imaginable, and she goes out of her way to do just that. In doing so, she digs herself an ever deepening hole in which her reputation will remain forever buried.


But she doesn’t care. She wants to do the right thing. . .
And nobody believes her, setting in motion a chainsaw of events that are as morbidly hypnotic as they are inevitable and compelling. Jones sprinkles clues throughout his narrative that point toward an apocalyptic climax. And you can literally feel the tension building as we inevitably head toward that climax, until . . . BAM! The story leaves you floundering.


And not in a good way.


As I mentioned above, 99.5 % of the story is a 5-star blitz of excellence. A blitz that suddenly fizzles to a puff of elusive smoke in the last pages that – how can I say this – takes all the wind out of your sails, and all the pzazz out of the fabric of the story.

In fact, I had to re-read the last chapter in its entirety three times. Yes, THREE times, just to make sure I hadn’t missed something vital in my haste to witness the grand finale.


You’ll see what I mean if you read this story for yourself.

All that work. All that depth and creativity. All those breadcrumbs and slow, pressure cooker buildup for . . . THAT? There was certainly nothing grand about it. And as for a finale? I’m sorry, I’m still waiting.


I note with interest how many other reviewers thought the book was brilliant. And to be fair, it is. Except for the ending, which I felt was a horror story in itself. A shame, as this could easily been one of the best books I’ve read and reviewed in a long time.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

 Take a Stab at My Review Of. . .

The Pendragon Protocol

Whenever I have a spare half hour, I like to scour the bookshelves of various sites on the lookout for something a little bit different. I read a great deal. So, anything that comes across as unconventional is always welcome.
And speaking of unconventional, take a gander at this little blurb regarding The Pendragon Protocol by Phillip Purser-Hallard


The Circle are the modern-day successors of the Knights of the Round Table. Armed with the latest military hardware and operating from a hidden fortress on the South Bank, they protect 21st-century Britain from certain very specific threats - criminals who, like the Circle's own Knights, have characters from Arthurian legend living inside their heads. Jory Taylor, the Knight bearing the device of Sir Gawain, has grappled on the Circle's behalf with mercenaries, serial killers and far-right terrorist cells. However, when he is captured by Gawain's traditional enemy the Green Knight, he discovers a new side to the myths he lives by - one which, as he learns more about this clandestine world, becomes both threateningly personal and terrifyingly political. The legends of King Arthur are not the only stories with influence on the British psyche - and some of the others have their own, very different agendas. A smart, contemporary political thriller and a new kind of urban fantasy, The Pendragon Protocol is the first volume in The Devices Trilogy.


How about that for a quirky twist on the usual fantasy fare?

And it’s a great concept. Building on the principle that focused belief gives certain concepts, certain totems or ideas, the power to actually manifest in the present. In this case, the mythos surrounding King Arthur and his knights.
And it’s cleverly done. This isn’t a case of a bunch of guys and girls getting ‘zapped’ by a mystical crystal, or drinking a magical elixir to get supernatural abilities. Oh no. This story is much more believable, and centers on the psychosomatic. The way the subconscious mind perceives things – and can use them as a focus/mantra – to manifest certain talents in a physical way. (Think of athletes before they run, jump, lift or throw things you and I can only marvel at). And then weave that into a fantasy setting. In this case, the skills and characteristics attributed to Knights of the Round Table.

Clever eh?

I certainly thought so, especially as the storyline itself is also made all the more credible by an unusual ‘narrator’ style delivery. And it works. The exploits and events portrayed within the book are as down to earth as they are relatable. You form a connection to the main character and those around him that helps to involve you in what’s going on. Add to that the twists and turns of a nice little espionage-thriller, and you get a great action adventure that’s bound to please.

The Pendragon Protocol. The first book in the Devices Trilogy. A series I think I’ll delve into a little more as time goes by. I’d recommend you get to know it too.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

 See My Review Of. . . 

Meat Eaters

I do rather enjoy those stories that aren’t afraid to advertise what they’re about. And in Meat Eaters, by Michael Cole, you kinda get the drift of what you’re going to read from the word go. However, it’s even more subtle than that.

How so?

I’ll tell you later. First, let’s set the scene:


When rancher William Boone found the remains of his neighbor’s dead steer, he assumed it to be the work of hungry coyotes. When he found the second one, it became clear something strange was going on.

It was when he discovered the human corpses that he understood the severity of the situation.

They are as voracious as they are numerous, giving no thought to the suffering they cause. Their metabolism has doomed them to an insatiable appetite. Each one must eat three times their body weight every twenty-four hours, or starve.

Now, they are loose, and invading the farmlands of Eastland County. With cheetah speed and teeth like scalpels, they seek to feed on anything they can catch. Horses, cows, pigs, humans—nothing is safe, for they are Meat Eaters.


I caught myself smiling on a number of occasions as I read this book. The first time, really, when I noticed a tongue-in-cheek reference/homage to the actual title. (The more discerning reader will spot the reference as they go through); and secondly, because it was such darn fun.

Eastland County sounds like the ideal place to live. The people there work with the land by raising cattle. Everyone knows just about everyone. And life has a routine that helps you feel as if you belong. Then something happens!

What that is, exactly, is referenced in the blurb. But if you think Yellowstone meets Jurassic Park, you won’t go far wrong. The characters are instantly relatable. The scenario is comfortably familiar. And the story progresses and evolves at an easy pace. That, together with plenty of action and a little personal conflict thrown in, ensures for an overall great read.

You’ll definitely enjoy this book. I know I did.