Thursday, January 29, 2015

What About the Cover?

Never judge a book by its cover, they say. But we do it every day, ignoring the boring thumbnail on Amazon, leaving the uninteresting spine on the bookstore shelf. But most of my books are read on kindle and kobo, given by authors or friends or friends of friends, and weighted with promises to review. The cover's the bit I rarely even notice, if at all. In fact, my review list is so long now, I rarely even remember the back-cover blurb by the time I start to read, and every tale is a brand new picture writing itself to the page.

That said, while reviewing in the presence of my mum, I've paid more attention to what the books look like. So here are some quick reviews, coffee recommendations, and comments on the covers:

Starting with Adelita's Secret by Christopher Cloud, a young adult novel that starts like any other teen romance, then flies with delightfully innocent time travel into heritage, honesty and hope. I loved the book (well, apart from its slow start), but the cover made me think of adult romances - one to hide from my mother while I read. I wished, with such a strong female lead, it could have pictured a white teen sharing the picket line with Mexicans, gun in hand, and strength in her eyes. Drink some elegant complex 4-star coffee with this well-crafted read.

Next is Maybe, Misery, by C. S. Bailey. Billed as a gripping bio-thriller, it tells the diary of a somewhat misogynistic genius scientist, so eager to find the cure for cancer and the next girl to bed that he almost destroys the world. Oddly, the cover image is a portrait of a woman who might compete as an English rose; beautiful, fresh-faced, dark-haired, glowing skin... All through the book I was wondering why she was there. Meanwhile the protagonist did his best to make me loath him, and my scientific leanings complained and confused. A bold dark intense five-star coffee would perhaps go best with this.

Weird Things Customers Say In Bookstores, by Jen Campbell, has a great cover, appropriately weird, lined with books, and quickly inviting the browser to at least read the words on the cover. While the words can't be read in an Amazon thumbnail, the colors still stand out enough to recognize bookshelves, a desk, and a cartoon man and woman with something to say. Inside the book is filled with weird short dialogs, with customers requesting anything from milk to a signed edition of Shakespeare. Something, somewhere, is bound to make you laugh. And something else will make whoever you share the book with laugh too. Drink some lively easy-drinking two-star coffee while you read.

But perhaps the best covers ought to belong to children's picture books. Pine and the Winter Sparrow, by Alexis York Lumbard, is illustrated by Beatriz Vidal, and a pastel cover with accurate renderings of bird and tree branch gives a lovely flavor of what's inside. The story's a delight to read, with smoothly flowing sentences, a tale that's pleasingly, gently intriguing, and a moral lesson in taking care of your friends, inspired by pictures that take beautiful care of nature. It's all made even better by the way the story fits into any religious or spiritual world-view. A pleasure to share. Enjoy some well-balanced three-star coffee as you read.

Then there those soon-to-be-classic literary novels, with covers more serious perhaps, but equally important. There's a Man with a Gun Over There, by R.M. Ryan is a powerful autobiographical novel of a man who didn't go to Vietnam. The cover, with stars and strips over rough-sketched hills, might not seem overly exciting, but the font of the title demands the reader stop and see, and wonder, and turn the page. And the book is a truly compelling, well-crafted blend of scenes, combining into a life, combining into an indictment of the prices paid for war. Enjoy this beautifully crafted tale with some rich, well-crafted, elegant four-star coffee.

Another soon-to-be-classic is The Mysteries of Soldiers Grove, by Paul Zimmer. This time the cover's so elusively plain and simple, with clear typed words, and just that hint of car and trees and fog, or is it snow... but more than one mystery? How? The reader has to look inside and will surely be quickly hooked. The story starts with an old man telling stories, but he picks the wrong listener. Meanwhile an old woman's tale begins. And the two combine. And love dances with the walking canes. And mystery is life and death and everything in between, and danger, and hope. Enjoy another rich elegant complex four-star coffee with this elegant, deceptively simple tale.

Sabotage at RKO Studio, by Christopher Geoffrey McPherson, has a fine old-style cover that offers a consistent old-time feeling in thumbnail too. The thick red letters for sabotage draw the eye, even if the studio's a little hard to see. And the cover certainly gives the right feel for a novel of early Hollywood. Second in the authors James Murray series, it tells two parallel tales - one fiction within the fiction of the other - and does so masterfully, offering different views of the same history through almost the same eyes. It's smooth, cool, and almost reads itself. Enjoy with some more rich elegant complex four-star coffee.

More horror than mystery, Blind Evil, by Eric Praschan has a cover that really gives nothing away - perhaps a woman walking in the rain. But the title says it all, and the title's clear and easy to see in the thumbnail on amazon. The story's twisted and warped, starting with an intriguing psychological mystery, then devolving into psycho-horror instead. It's not entirely convincing, but it's a compelling look at built and innocence, nature and nurture, and the unrelenting grasp of evil. Drink some bold dark intense five-star coffee as you read.

And finally, Broken-Hearted Ghoul, by Joyce and Jim Laverne, is a fun, light-hearted, thought-provoking, paranormal mystery that just might be the start of my next favorite paranormal series. The cover's certainly bright and enticing, but in thumbnail it makes me think of small-town America, ordinary everyday lives - not quite the shock and awe the title inspires. It's a really cool book though, with a pleasingly different take on zombies and more, enough questions resolved to make a complete story, and enough left hanging to satisfyingly offer the promise of more. Enjoy with some rich elegant complex four-star coffee, and few darker brews for darker scenes.

So that's my review of books and their covers, and now it's time to make dinner.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What was New Zealand really like in colonial times?

Today I'm welcoming award-winning short-story author Rebecca Burns to my blog. Her latest book, The Settling Earth, was published in December by Odyssey Books, a small publisher based in Australia. It contains an interconnected collection of stories set in colonial (historical) New Zealand - a fact which immediately makes this ex-pat want to read them. I'm delighted to have the book on my virtual bookshelf, and I'm eagerly awaiting some real time to read. So... over to you Rebecca. Just what was nineteenth century New Zealand like?

The Settling Earth – life in nineteenth-century New Zealand
by Rebecca Burns
In the nineteenth century, a section of middle-class British society was faced with a difficult choice. Unmarried women, with little hope of meeting a future husband, either had to face social disdain by going out to work, continue to be reliant on elderly parents, or, as many brave souls did, take a leap into the unknown and emigrate. Indeed, the nineteenth century saw the migration of thousands of men, women and children, to settler colonies in the British Empire. Between 1875-1879, when emigration was at its heyday, 60,000 settlers arrived in New Zealand.[1] Unmarried, single women, were a key part of this movement. In my new collection of short stories, The Settling Earth, I fictionalise the experiences of settlers in New Zealand, and give a portrayal of what life was like for some women who made this bold move.
Some women did emigrate as newlyweds or with hopes of finding a partner in the colonies. In The Settling Earth, Sarah is married to William, a friend of her father’s and a much older man. He has taken ownership of a Canterbury sheep run; long absences and frequent trips to town (where he pays furtive visits to a brothel) leaves Sarah isolated. Like other settlers living in the New Zealand backblocks, Sarah experiences terrible loneliness. Indeed, it was not uncommon for wives to be miles away from their nearest neighbours, separated by a day’s hike or ride.
Despite this isolation, women were exposed to a high degree of attention, simply because of their gender. Women were scarce in some parts – colonial New Zealand had an abundance of bushmen, swaggers, gold diggers, and farmhands, but options were limited for those looking to marry. In some cases, sexual interactions became commoditised, and The Settling Earth offers a fictional representation of life in a brothel. Female characters, such as Phoebe, were there because of failed love affairs and poverty. The Settling Earth also portrays the desperate choices made by some characters when they inevitably fell pregnant – Dottie, the child of one character, is left with a woman who runs a baby farm. The Victorian term “baby farm” refers to a household which took unwanted children in and, in some cases, neglected them and allowed them to die. Dottie’s mother is not a prostitute, but an unplanned pregnancy and conflicted professional ambitions lead her to feel she has little option but to abandon her child.
Settler life in nineteenth century was challenging, difficult, inspiring, rewarding and, at times, terribly, terribly hard. It was a fascinating area to research and The Settling Earth offers the reader a collection of stories that provide a fictionalised snapshot of life during this time.
 [1] Keith Sinclair, A History of New Zealand (London: Penguin Books, 1959, 1980), p. 156

The idea of a set of interlinked short stories combining into a collection really intrigues me, and I'm eagerly looking forward to reading this. 

About the Book:

"Marriage transplants Sarah thousands of miles from home; a failed love affair forces Phoebe to make drastic choices in a new environment; a sudden, shocking discovery brings Mrs Ellis to reconsider her life as an emigrant - The Settling Earth is a collection of ten, interlinked stories, focusing on the British settler experience in colonial New Zealand, and the settlers' attempts to make sense of life in a strange new land.

Sacrifices, conflict, a growing love for the landscape, a recognition of the succour offered by New Zealand to Maori and settler communities - these are themes explored in the book. The final story in the collection, written by Shelly Davies of the Ngātiwai tribe, adds a Maori perspective to the experience of British settlement in their land."

Find it on Amazon at:

About the Author:

Rebecca Burns is an award-winning writer of short stories, over thirty of which have been published online or in print. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2011, winner of the Fowey Festival of Words and Music Short Story Competition in 2013 (and runner-up in 2014), and has been profiled as part of the University of Leicester's "Grassroutes Project"-a project that showcases the 50 best transcultural writers in the county.

The Settling Earth is her second collection of short stories. Her debut collection, Catching the Barramundi, was published in 2012 - also by Odyssey Books - and was longlisted for the Edge Hill Award in 2013.

Find her on Twitter at:
on Facebok at:
or visit her webpage at:

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Languages of White Swans

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Annamaria Bazzi back to my blog. Her new book, White Swans, A Regency World, has just come out, and we're sitting here drinking coffee and eating chocolate chip cookies (gluten free of course), so please feel free to join us.

Hi Annamaria, and welcome to my blog. Having learned that you speak English, Italian and Spanish, I'm wondering what other languages you speak, and whether you think being multilingual helps you write.

The only other language I speak is Sicilian, the dialect from the province of Agrigento. The language is completely different from Italian and I still have a bit of a hard time sounding out the words when I read. Does speaking other languages help my writing? Not really, the only advantage I’ve found is that when I need to use some Spanish in my novels I don’t need a dictionary of translator. I’ve used both Spanish and Italian in Incantation Paradox, although I’m not sure if readers appreciate it.

I guess when you do need a dictionary you probably use one on the computer. And I noticed you studied computers too, so... how do human languages and computer languages compare? (I have to ask this since I wrote (unpublished) books, then wrote computer programs, then wrote published books.)

Computer languages are much easier to learn for me. I always have problems with grammar no matter what language. Grammar has it out for me. With computer languages I never had any syntax problems, they always made so much sense to me, unlike the English language where a knight in shinning armor has a silent K in front of the word and so does a knife for that matter. Why? And what’s with the gh why not just nite? Now that word would make perfect sense to me.

I know what you mean. I always had problems with spelling too, but with computer programs it's all nice and logical. How does White Swans fit with the other books you've written? Do all your novels have some kind of theme or message in common and, if so, what is it?

With the books I’ve published so far I have no common message or theme, but with some of the unpublished novel that still need editing I tackle worldly problems that make no sense to me so I write about them to solve them in ways that make sense to me. Although the novels all take place in other worlds they deal with real problems. White Swans A Regency Era tackles the avarice of man, but I don’t think there’s an answer to this particular problem.

Is the world becoming friendlier or unfriendlier for writers?

Amazon has made publishing real easy. I think more important is the fact that so many don’t take the art of writing a book seriously. They just want to see their name in print. It is these individuals that make life very difficult for the Indie authors who output quality and are serious authors.

That makes sense. I remember reading somewhere "Everyone can write" and wondering what that meant for those of us who love writing. And on another tack, is the world becoming friendlier or unfriendlier for original thinkers?

Most original thinkers tend to be a bit off, maybe odd to the rest of the world and as in the past thinkers today still struggle to be accepted for who and what they are.

Is the world becoming friendlier or unfriendlier for people who are different from their neighbors?

In our modern day society we’ve come to accept a great many thing, starting with homosexuality and the modern family. Yet we still struggle with certain prejudices Martin Luther King dreamed of eliminating.

And it was Martin Luther King Day yesterday. Yes.

The stubbornness of mankind to refuse to see that we are all equal no matter what color, race or national background keeps setting us back.

So, is anything we've talked about relevant to how you write?

At times I tackle political problems but I disguise them and set them in alien world so I can find the solutions that make the most sense to me. In White Swan, I only tackle the avarice of men and the mind that believes to always be right.

Thank you Annamaria, and may your problems all be good ones. I'm really looking forward to reading White Swans.

And now, for my blog readers, here's some information about Annamaria:

Although born in the United States, Annamaria Bazzi spent a great deal of her childhood in Sicily, Italy, in a town called Sciacca. Italian was the language spoken at home. Therefore, she had no problems when she found herself growing up in a strange country.
Upon returning to the states, she promised herself she would speak without an accent.
She attended Wayne State University in Detroit Michigan, where she obtained her Bachelor of Science in Computers with a minor in Spanish.
Annamaria spent twenty years programming systems for large corporations, creating innovative solution, and addressing customer problems. During those years, she raised four daughters and one husband. Annamaria lives in Richmond Virginia with her small family where she now dedicates a good part of her day writing.

You can visit Annamaria at:

And some more information about White Swans

Kendíka’s second chance at life begins as a nightmare. Will the eerie eyes always looking down from the sky reveal themselves? Kendíka challenges the aliens no one has ever seen to bring about a better life for the humans trapped in the surreal Regency world she wakes up in. While getting to know her alien owner, she discovers the aliens aren’t so perfect and have much to learn about humans. 

Will Kendíka survive or perish, attempting to make life better for the people living on Regency? 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Johnny Nothing and A Writer's Life

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Ian Probert to my blog. His first children's book is Johnny Nothing, and he's here to share his experience of a Writer's Life -- what happens next when your heartbreaking work of staggering genius starts breaking your heart. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure this is quite what happened next -- hey, I've looked on Amazon and Ian Probert has lots of great reviews -- also lots of books. But hey, you can judge for yourselves; there's an excerpt from Johnny Nothing (with pictures) at the end of this post, and there's a contest too. So read on. Welcome to my blog Ian, and thank you for visiting me with your heartbreaking tale of well-staggered genius.

A writer’s life – the reality
by Ian Probert

You’ve written your first book. You’ve sent it off to a dozen agents and one of them has liked it and decided to represent you. Said agent has suggested changes, which you wordlessly resent but grudgingly acquiesce to. Your rewritten m/s lands on a publisher’s desk and someone there reads it and likes it. Negotiations take place. Lunches are eaten. Alcohol is imbibed. Hands are shaken. Contracts are signed.

And then one day you’re sitting at home and the doorbell rings. A man in a crash helmet hands you a package and you breathlessly rip it open. Inside, are a dozen copies of your new book. YOUR book! YOURS! You hold them up to your face. You smell their impossibly new smell. You lick their covers. It is the happiest day of your life.

There are more lunches. There are meetings with people from marketing. There are readings in libraries, in pubs. In book shops. You’re reading to anyone who possesses a pair of ears. The launch date approaches. You’ve lost count of the hangovers. You’re dizzy. You can’t breathe. Behind your back people are muttering about how you’ve ‘changed’.

Launch day is here. Your whole life has been leading up to this moment. You remember those stories you wrote as a kid. How those teachers’ red ticks made your heart do a dance. You think back to all those articles you sent to newspapers and magazines. All those rejections. It’s all been worth it for this moment. The launch day. The day that YOUR book hits the shops.

Your fingers shake as you open a newspaper. You clumsily flip through the pages and find YOUR first review.  YOUR book is being reviewed in a real newspaper! ‘Shit!’ says the reviewer.

Your face reddens. You’re gasping for breath but cannot find any. Another newspaper offers its opinion. ‘Crap!’ says this reviewer. ‘Can’t write!’ says another. ‘Is this a joke?’ proclaims yet another.

You tear the papers to shreds. You rip them up and throw them in the kitchen bin. Perhaps these are the only copies and nobody else will read them? Nobody else will experience your SHAME. Your absolute UTTER SHAME.

And then you move over to the computer. And you don’t know why but you head over to Amazon. You feel your eyes start to bleed. The reviews are unanimous: one star is too much for this writer chant the angry horde. ‘A child could have written this!’ says someone called Bookiekid. ‘I wasted my money on his horse manure!’ says a more literate observer. Ten reviews. All one-star. You pull the lead from the back of your computer and head for the gin.

And this, your discover far too late, is what reality is like. Achieving the almost impossible feat of getting somebody to put those words that you scribbled down into a real paper and cardboard book is the easy bit. Because now you have the critics to deal with and they’re the worst of all. And everyone is a critic. Everyone can write and everyone can read. You sit there alone in your room and wonder how this came to be. All you ever wanted was to write. That’s all your really wished for. And now that you’ve written you will never write again.

I do hope you will write again, Ian. meanwhile, thank you for a fun depiction of, ugh, those reviews... But here, for my readers, are some more realistic clips from reviews for Johnny Nothing.

“Great new kids book alert! My two are in hysterics reading Johnny Nothing by Ian Probert (and I am too).” Jane Bruton, Editor of Grazia

"Oh, Wow! Dark, sordid, grotesque and hilarious are only a few words I can conjure up to describe this hilarious book." Lizzie Baldwin, mylittlebookblog

Critics are comparing Ian Probert to Roald Dahl. And Johnny Nothing we have a modern successor to Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.

About the Book:

Johnny Nothing is best-selling author Ian Probert’s first ever children book – although adults are enjoying it too. The story of the poorest boy in the world and the nastiest mother in the universe, the book is earning rave reviews. Children and grown-ups are all laughing at this incredibly funny kids book.

Take a look for yourself:

About the Contest:

To celebrate the paperback launch of Johnny Nothing we are offering a free Kindle copy of the book to the first 100 people who Tweet the following message:

@truth42 I’m reading Johnny Nothing by Ian Probert. #YA #Kindle #kidsbooks

The first ten readers who answer the following question will also receive a signed print of one of the book’s illustrations.

Q: What is the tattoo on Ben’s arm?

Send your answers to

Where to find Answers:



Book promo




Twitter @truth42

About the Author:

Ian Probert has been scribbling down words ever since he learned to spell the phrase: 'Once upon a time...'. He is the author of Internet Spy, Rope Burns and a bunch of other titles. Internet Spy was a bestseller in the US and made into a TV film. Rope Burns is a book about why books shouldn't be written about boxing. Ian has also written things for a shed load of newspapers and magazines. When Ian was a student he used to write lots of letters to the bank manager.

And now, as a special treat, here's a book trailer and an excerpt:


Bill had a shaven head and was wearing a blue tracksuit. He was almost seven feet tall and built like an outdoor toilet made of brick. Bill didn’t realise this but he was a distant descendent of Neanderthal Man. He had only one eyebrow – one long bushy eyebrow that reached right across his forehead. He looked like what you might get if you force fed a member of Oasis with a half-tonne black plastic sackful of steroids.
And if you were brave enough to be present when he took off his tracksuit you would discover that his back was so covered in hair that he was able part it with a comb. If Bill had had more of an interest in fashion, he might even have considered giving it a curly perm and perhaps a few extensions
On his right arm, Bill had a tattoo which simply read ‘Bill’. This was in case he woke up one morning and forgot who he was. This was actually less unlikely than you might imagine because standing next to him was his twin brother. His name was Ben and he was identical to Bill in every way except that the tattoo on his arm read ‘Bin’ (the tattooist was either South African or not a very good speller). He was wearing a red tracksuit.
Bill gave Mr. and Mrs. MacKenzie the tiniest of smiles and managed to grunt ‘hello’. Ben gave the couple exactly the same tiniest of smiles and also managed to grunt ‘hello’.
The two men were standing protectively close to Johnny. They were so large that in the confines of Johnny’s bedroom they looked like giants, which they were. They were so enormous that each of them had their own postcode. They were so gigantic that they had their passport photos taken by satellite. They were so humungous that you could spend all day thinking up rubbishy jokes about how big they were and never adequately describe just how indescribably, earth-shatteringly ENORMOUS they were. By no stretch of the imagination could you call them small (unless, of course, you were a lot bigger than them).
The pair of Goliaths were having to stoop slightly so as to avoid head-butting the ceiling, which actually even looked a little scared itself. They were a terrifying sight. Even scarier than a school trip to a Weight-Watcher’s nudist camp.
There was a long, pregnant silence in the room like this:

This eventually gave birth to an even longer post-natal silence, which, in the interest of preserving the rain forests or the battery on your Kindle, I shan’t demonstrate.
The four grown-ups eyed each other nervously. Bill and Ben looked at the Mackenzies like they were looking at insects that could be squashed into pulpy insect juice any time they so desired.
The Mackenzies looked at Bill and Ben like they were looking at two giant skinhead Neanderthal bully boys who had just appeared from nowhere in their recently and unexpectedly decorated council flat.
Johnny looked a little scared.

Finally Billy Mackenzie managed to get his mouth working a little and spluttered: ‘Who are you?’ And then: ‘What do you want?’
There was another long silence – let’s call it a pause – while Bill and Ben looked at each other as if trying to decide who was going to answer. Finally Bill spoke: ‘You the boy’s parents?’ he demanded in a voice that sounded like an angry rhino with horn-ache. Although if he was clever enough he would have realised that this was a rhetorical question.
There was yet another long silence (you’ll be relieved to hear that this is the last silence you’re going to get in this chapter) before Billy Mackenzie mumbled ‘Yes’.
‘We’re Johnny’s bodyguards,’ continued Bill. ‘We’re here to make sure that everything’s hunky dory.’
‘Hunky dory?’ Mrs. Mackenzie suddenly found her voice. 'What do you mean ‘hunky dory”?’
Now Ben spoke: ‘What my brother means to say,’ he explained. ‘Is that we’ve been – how shall I say – contracted – to make sure that this young feller’s affairs are in order.’
‘Get out of my house!’ interrupted Mrs. Mackenzie, suddenly feeling a little braver, although she had no idea why.
Bill and Ben looked at each again for a moment. They did this almost as much as your mum looks in the mirror. Or you dad looks at websites that he shouldn’t be looking at. ‘First of all,’ said Bill, ‘This isn’t a house – it’s a flat.’
‘And second of all,’ said his brother. ‘We ain’t going nowhere. And neither are you.’
‘Johnny who are these men?’ Mrs. MacKenzie asked her son, ignoring the two giants.
‘I’m sorry mum but…’ Johnny started to speak but Bill cut in like a pair of scissors that chops sentences into bits.
‘…What the young feller means to say is that the fun’s over.’
‘The fun’s over?’ repeated Felicity MacKenzie numbly.
‘That’s right,’ continued Ben. ‘You’ve had a right old time. You’ve been spending his money like it’s your own. You’ve been ripping the poor young feller off. And we’re here to put a stop to it. From now on things are gonna be different.’
‘I’ve had enough of this,’ said Mrs. MacKenzie. ‘Nobody speaks to me like this in my house…’
‘Flat,’ corrected Ben.
‘Nobody speaks to me like this in my flat. Billy, call the police!’
As usual Billy MacKenzie did as he was told. He reached into his pocket for his mobile phone. Before he had the chance to even turn it on the gigantic frame of Bill was towering over him.
‘That an iPhone?’ asked Ben.
‘Erm… Yes,’ said Billy, who could only watch as the huge man took it from him and with one hand crushed it into a chunk of buckled metal and shattered touch screen.
‘I think it’s broken,’ said Ben. ‘You ought to take it back to the Apple store. Tell ‘em that you’re not getting a decent signal.’
‘Right!’ cried Mrs. MacKenzie. ‘We’re leaving! You’ll be very sorry you did that. I’ll fetch the police myself!’
Now the giant frame of Bill was standing in front of her. He was holding something in his hand that looked a little like a child’s toy space gun.
‘Know what this is?’ he asked. Although once again he wasn’t clever enough to recognise that this was a rhetorical question.
Mrs. Mackenzie regarded the object for a moment. Then she shook her head. Whatever it was she guessed that it was not intended to provide pleasure, happiness or fulfilment. Anything that has a trigger and a barrel and goes ‘bang!’ seldom does.
‘Come on Billy!’ she said. ‘We’re leaving!’
Bill stood in front of her blocking the doorway. ‘Not so fast,’ he said, not so slowly. ‘It’s called a Taser. See this little trigger at the front? If I press this it’ll give you a small electric shock. It won’t hurt you…Well not too much anyway.’
Bill raised the object and gently touched Mrs. MacKenzie on the arm. There was a loudish bang and a flash of blue neon light and Mrs. MacKenzie collapsed groaning to the floor. She was conscious but wasn’t able to move her arms and legs
‘Oh my gawd!’ said Billy Mackenzie bravely charging out of the room in terror. He got as far as the stairs before there was a second flash. He, too, crumpled to the floor. Bill dragged him back into the bedroom by the scruff of his neck.
Johnny Nothing got to his feet and stood over his two parents. He looked anxious. ‘Are they… Are they… OK?’ he gasped.
‘Don’t you worry yourself,’ smiled Ben. ‘Give em a few minutes and they’ll be right as rain.’
‘But they’ll think twice before they try to run off again,’ said his brother.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Resting my eyes and reading, or maybe drinking coffee.

My Mum had her cataracts removed a few years ago. The operation went really well, and she was enormously excited at being able to see again. Still, when she visited me, I would always be the one who could find my way around the local supermarket. Familiar aisles combined with my younger eyes and faster reading speed I supposed... and so I continued to suppose until this year. But now it's Mum who says, "Sheila, the milk's over there," and, "It says hair products are on that aisle," as we wander in search of shampoo. It doesn't seem fair.

I went to the opthalmologist again yesterday and learned my "not yet ripe" cataract has a spur that's growing through the center of the lens. Nobody's sure, but that could be why I'm starting to struggle so much. So here I sit today, after all those tests, with itching eyes well-washed with sandpaper, a headache that says don't try to look too closely at anything, decisions to make about whether to have that cataract removed before my sight gets worse, and a whole slew of book reviews overdue.

And an urge to drink more coffee of course.

So pick your brew and I'll post these reviews as fast as I can, then rest these eyes.

A wonderful faith-filled book seems a good place to start when worrying about sight, and the Joy of the Gospel, by Pope Francis, certainly fits the bill. It's an enticing and thought-provoking read, from beginning to end. But it's structured for dipping and seeking too, with separate sections and subsections nicely numbered and outlined. There are some fairly ponderous references, and fascinating concepts carefully explained. But the overall feel is of a book of joy, inspiring joy, written by someone who knows what joy really means, and wishes we'd enjoy out faith instead of condemning our neighbors for not understanding. Enjoy this with a rich, elegant, complex 4-star cup of coffee.

The Genesis One Code, by Daniel Friedmann, is a somewhat different book, again offering enormous food for thought, with careful diagrams and background, beautifully researched and well laid out. I'm not sure yet if I agree with its analysis, but it's a truly fascinating synthesis of Genesis 1, Jewish mystical studies, and science, and I really enjoyed reading it. Have some rich elegant 4-star coffee on hand as you follow its path.

Down and Out, by Marcy G. Dyer, is Christian romantic suspense, and offers another joyful look at faith, including it very naturally in the lives of naturally flawed characters. Jumping to conclusions about our neighbors or ourselves proves to be a mistake as two people are drawn together by romance and torn apart by danger. Enjoy with some lively easy-drinking 2-star coffee, but keep something bolder, 5-star perhaps, on hand for when things turn dark.

Margaret Vandenburg’s The Home Front, explores the real, the virtual and the secret through the lives of an officer flying drones, an autistic child, and a mother falling for the internet's quick-fix allure. Oddly unsettling in places, deeply intriguing, and truly enthralling, it's threaded with hope and humor, and richly elegant and complex, deserving an elegant complex four-star coffee.

Sinking Down, Road Ghosts Book 2, by Eric Garrison, will take your thoughts in a very different direction, but there's still food for spiritual thought in a modern day road-trip horror story with Wiccan overtones and questions of soul and salvation. I loved book 1, and I love book 2 as well. Enjoy with a well-balanced, smooth, full-flavored 3-star coffee.

Reclamation is Jackie Gamer's third Leland Dragons book, and it's a wonderful end to the series, possibly the strongest novel of the three. Filled with great characters and fascinating revelations, it sends it's human/dragon protagonist on a quest to save the world, but she'd really rather just stop and stay in the home she's only just returned to. Enjoy with rich complex tale with a rich complex four-star coffee.

Then there's Finding Home by J.W. Phillips, where not-quite angel meets not-quite-demon and romance ensues. Cross Beauty and the Beast with Twilight and you'll get the picture.

And for something completely different, here are two wonderful children's books.

The Carrot Race, by Sigal Adler, is a nicely illustrated rhyming tale to read to the kids, teaching how what's hidden just might be what's important. Enjoy with a mild crisp one-star coffee.

And Cinderella’s Secret Slipper, by Alinka Rutkowska, offers a truly fun tale of Cinderella's life after marriage, with promise of forgiveness and hope for kids who occasionally break things. Enjoy with a live bright easy-drinking two-star coffee.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Suddenly space

I've taken down the ornaments, removed the lights, and taken out the most wonderful tree we ever had. The season's over, and it's sad. But Mum's still here and sons still promise to visit and life is good. It's just hard not to mourn the passing of that beautiful, beautifully decorated, beautifully scented piece of wood that has dominated our living room. Suddenly space... and maybe time to read.

With my apologies for late posting of these book reviews, promised last year, posted in this...

And with the sincere hope you'll find a cup of coffee as well as a good book to your taste.

First is a Christmas story - late I know, but with a message for all seasons. A Christmas Gift from the Past, by S.A. Molteni is a sweet short seasonal story, told in a convincing conversational style with complex sentences, drifting memories, and a beautiful message for all seasons. Enjoy with a lively easy-drinking 2-star coffee.

Hearts at Play, by Melissa Foster is a sweet romantic novel, fairly short, a fairly quick read, with a nice sense of delayed gratification as the risk-taker and risk-averse meet and fall in love. Bedroom scenes are fully detailed, sensual and fun; and the inevitable misunderstandings of romance are never too tense or disturbing. Enjoy with a balanced full-flavored 3-star coffee.

Whatever Happened to Mourning Free, by Yael Politis is a much longer tale, blending romance with history and social commentary, and bringing a trilogy of novels to a truly satisfying close. Whatever happened stands alone, but it's a haunting depiction of how the trials  and victories of the past can still be mirrored in the present, and battles won are battles still being fought. Set in the 1800s and 1960s Detroit, it views racial issues through a pleasing blend of innocence and guilt, and invites the reader to ponder the present day too, while presenting a wonderful historical novel, wrapped in a modern romance. Enjoy some rich, elegant and complex 4-star coffee with this elegant complex tale.

Leaving romance behind, No Mercy, a Sgt Major Crane murder mystery, by Wendy Cartwell, is actually a short collection of short stories, where romance and more have gone seriously wrong. Blending horror with police procedure, the first story stars the sergeant major of a longer series of novels, introducing him with complex detail and backstory. Enjoy these dark tales with some bold dark intense 5-star coffee.

Staying with short stories and moving deeper into horror, Southern Haunts, Devils in the Darkness, edited by Alexander Brown and Louise Myers, illustrated by Robert K., is a long, strong collection of truly scary tales, with shocks, horror, humor, dark mystery, classic don't-go-theres, evocative swamps, and prose as smooth and slithery as the demons. Enjoy some classic bold, dark, intense 5-star coffee with these, but don't read them alone on a dark and stormy night.

And moving on into realms of dark and epic fantasy, Crown of Vengeance (Fires in Eden book 1) by Stephen Zimmer blends Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant with Game of Thrones, Dungeons and Dragons, and touches of Lord of the Rings as a motley group of modern day Americans find themselves in a fantasy Saxon (Saxan) world, with swords, monsters, and maybe sorcery. It's part one of a series, and it's a long, thoroughly epic tale filled with complex descriptions interrupted by frantic violence. Enjoy with some more bold dark intense five-star coffe.

That's not all I've read, but it's all I've reviewed up to now. More coming soon, I hope... more books and more typing to fill that empty space where a bright-lit tree once stood.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Do Rubbermen read YA Dystopias?

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Joseph Picard to my blog as he enjoys a tour with We're enjoying a virtual snack and talking about the joys of Young Adult fiction, dystopias, and the Rubberman's Cage, so please pour a cup of your favorite beverage and join us. 

Me: What's your favorite YA novel or series, and why?

JP: Does Harry Potter count?

Me: Absolutely!

JP: It feels like HP preceded the YA label, and kind of doesn't slip super-neatly into the category... but I'll go with ole' Harry. I'm not a big fan of writing magic, but I can read it pretty happily. And many of the characters have very believable coming-of-age arcs.

Me: What do you consider was the most influential dystopian novel written to date, and why?

JP: I'm going to have to go with 1984. It's bloody iconic. Even people who don't give a second thought to the word 'dystopia', or even know what 1984 is, know that Big Brother is something to be wary of. Oooh... sudden flashfic idea... Charlie's Angels' “Charlie” goes on vacation, and it substituted with Big Brother. Huh? Shush, it makes sense to me.

Me: Yeah, I think it makes sense. And I love 1984. I used to enjoy Charlie's Angels too, back in the day. But why do you think dystopian novels are so popular with young adults, and why do you think they are becoming more popular with all ages? If you don't think they are, please say why you don't.

JP: To be honest, I'm not fond of the idea of categorizing anything as 'young adult'. We can all be young at heart, yada yada.. things that 'young adults' are into isn't that different from the... not-as-young adults. Or the young not-quite-as-adults. But I digress....

The dystopia surge is a sign of the times, I'm afraid. We're all more aware these days of the corporate powers that be, the political garbage that floats around us, authority abused, and it can feel pretty hopeless. Fictional dystopias throw the idea under the magnifying glass, and if we're lucky, we get a hero to bring us a little hope.

Me: I know I don't qualify as young - I'm working on the adult bit - but I do enjoy dystopian novels, and those heroes are well worth meeting. Still, what about your dystopian novel? What inspired Rubberman's Cage?

JP: A little bit the repetition of daily life. Wake, work, sleep. It can be especially tedious with a 40 hour a week job you don't care about. Then I looked at my daughter's hamster. He's trapped. He doesn't work, but he's contained to the same handful of insignificant activities for most of his life. He's also pretty ignorant of the world at large, much like Lenth from Rubberman's Cage.

The setting also took some inspiration from the Silent Hill series originally, when things go bad, and everything is rusty (or bloody). At first, I planned an environment caked in rust... but this was impractical, realistically... and for a short time, the title of the book was something 'Rust' related.

Me: But not now? Intriguing. But time's running out, so we'd better finish up. What else would you tell to tell my readers?

JP: Rubberman's Cage is a self-contained story, but it's also the beginning of a series. I have a lot of plans for that world. I can't wait... book 2 is already starting, and I see a lot more stories peeking at me, with different characters' experiences in that world. Lenth is the protagonist in Rubberman's Cage, but in a way, after a couple more books, I think people will see what the real main character is... EEEEEheeeheee, can't wait...!

Me: Cool! Now I wish my book list wasn't so long, but I'll look forward to finding out. And now I guess I should add for my readers... Rubberman's Cage can be purchased at:

and other books by the author can be found at


And thank you for visiting my blog, Joseph. I really enjoyed our interview.

The Steampunk Garden

Today, as part of the b00k r3vi3w tours celebration, I'm spotlighting a steampunk, middle-grade novel inspired by the Secret Garden. I thought it sounded a pretty intriguing idea. And now I've seen the cover, well, I'm definitely intrigued.

Inspired by the classic novel The Secret Garden, Jane Yates introduces us to a steampunk world of bio-domes, robots and mysteries. Eleven-year-old Aberdeen is so used to being by herself that all she has to fill her thoughts are stories of mighty dragons and grand castles. Aberdeen’s world is soon thrown into disarray however; her parents murdered.

Having no choice, Aberdeen is sent to live with her uncle back on Earth where her fascination into her new surroundings begin to take hold. Untrusting of new people at first, it isn’t long before Aberdeen comes across 3 other children, and taking a risk, befriends them as she tries to adjust to her new home. And yet, along with Maisy, Peter and Lenard, Aberdeen comes across a riddle – a set of clues to reveal the hiding place of a lost manuscript. A manuscript that forces more questions than answers.

Oh, and there’s Frank too, Peter’s robot dog, who completes this special circle of friendship.
Garden is a journey of self-discovery, of trials and friendship. With adventure boundless, Jane Yates follows up her acclaimed Paradox Child trilogy with a new tale for young fans of steampunk and science fiction. 


Jane lives in the historic city of Oxford, England with her two spaniels. She works at the Pitt Rivers museum there too and is amazed and inspired by its wondrous array of objects. Being in a museum of anthropology and world archaeology, Jane often finds herself influenced by its exhibitions. And indeed it has helped Jane write a trilogy for children – the Paradox Child series.

Jane is not only a mother, artist and storyteller, but dyslexic too, which only highlights her success even more. Jane refuses to allow the disorder to halt her dreams and continues to enjoy her favourite hobbies. Jane is a lover of steampunk, adventure and children’s stories, which often play a huge role in her own books.