HM On Writing

Spoiler Alert!!!

Have you ever experienced that, after writing a review, somebody shouted spoiler alert?

I have, and that made me think. Yes, in that review, I mentioned things that emerge within the story but, in my opinion, it wasn’t the plot that moved the book forward. It was the characters and their inner lives.

Honestly, I’ve never understood why it should be necessary to keep the plot of a psychological novel a secret.  It made me ask myself if we only read to be surprised.

In that case, I’d give up many books – because the plot is too obvious. I’ve seldom been surprised but, since my childhood, my reason for reading was never to find out about the storyline. If anything, my reason for reading is to see how the author uses the plot to develop characters or vice versa. Perhaps my main reason for reading is to enjoy the language – if the author is worth his or her mettle.

Merely reading for a plot would mean that nobody could enjoy a fairy tale. This has something to do with the idea that there are only a certain set of plots to choose from. To me, it is obvious that certain plots get plenty of repeat performances. Those are: boy meets girl (romance), crime capers, fantasy, vampire stories, and even horror ditto. The Westerns also have their set course, and that goes for any genre fiction.

Does that stop us from reading? No. What keeps us reading is those little and significant differences in the way an author, any author, presents the story. It’s colours and flavours if you like. What interests a reader cannot be the plot. Perhaps the only themes that avoid that are fantasy and Sci-Fi. If the narrative includes world building it isn’t unlikely that this stands in the foreground. All the same, it is the relationships between the characters, their way to cope – or not – that captivate a reader. Isn’t it?

Why do we read? In my opinion, it is to find out what it is to be a human being. We are that close to Narcissus.  We like to hold a mirror up and see that we all are alike deep down. We may shudder to think that we could commit murder. We may get carried away into a blossoming romance. We may root for the hero – or for the charming villain.

The seven basic plots are ‘overcoming the monster, rags to riches, quest, voyage (and return), rebirth, comedy, and tragedy. In those categories, there are already similarities though. Overcoming a monster – even if it is innate in the protagonist – is similar to a quest. So is a voyage and a rebirth. All of the above can be written or told as comedy or tragedy. Rags to riches is another form of a journey and so would the opposite (riches to rags) be.

Apparently, a British economist, Francis Isidro Edgeworth was the first to use the so-called hedonometer, a method to measure happiness in writing. Later, Kurt Vonnegut used this idea to measure the fluctuations between good and evil in simple tales.

At the bottom line, it is important to remember that even if there are only seven stories, or three, or six, or whatever researchers suggest next – it doesn’t mean you don’t have a worthwhile story to tell. From a framework perspective, it may all have been done before – but only the most cynical could use that as a reason not to write. So, could only the most cynical use this as a reason not to read.

What comes to the front of this analysing lark is that we aren’t so taken with the plot as we are with exploring our humanity. So, where does a review come into the scheme of things? If all stories follow a narrow pattern, the review must be about delving into what inspired the reviewer to think. If anything did. Maybe my thought here is that a spoiler can’t spoil an excellent book – one that has more to offer than merely a plot. A book that lets the reader delve into what it might be that makes humans tick offers far more.

Hence, I dare to suggest that there’s no point in reading books that get spoiled through a ‘spoiler’.

© HMH, 2020

HM On Writing

My Newest Reviews

Suzy Henderson, The Beauty Shop

World War II Romance

Archie McIndoe, John (Mac) Mackenzie and Stella Charlton are the main protagonists in Suzy Henderson’s WWII novel. The ‘beauty shop’ refers to the Guinea Pig Club and gives its readers a different viewpoint of the horrors happening during the Second World War, presenting the pilots who become casualties, with horrific burns, often permanent damage to their appearance, and, in many cases, their mental well-being. A New Zealand plastic surgeon, Archibald (the Maestro) McIndoe does wonders in restorative surgery at East Grinstead, the home of the 91st Bomb Group. 

From the start, Stella is torn between her proposed fiancé and the American pilot she meets, doing service at close to the airfield. Mac falls for her the moment he sets eyes on her. He admires her integrity but can help to pursue her regardless of her prior ties. Stella’s doubts about her fiancé become pressing, especially because Mac shows her admiration as well as understanding.

The Beauty Shop is not only a romance, but it gives insight into the horror of war. Ms Henderson describes war action in all its aspects when the crew can return after a successful drop, and the anguish they live though when things go wrong. This is a realistic but touching read that leaves the reader wondering about human folly. Highly recommended.


Pearl Tate, Bren’s Blessing

Erotic Sci-Fi Novella

Hannah is a high-ranking scientist on a solitary mission to Mars. Bren is a commander of one of many spaceships that circle the universe. Bren’s world is stagnating, due to infertility. This is a female-led world where the males must share married life with several other males. Procreation can only be achieved by insemination. These are the premises for an outer space romp that involves numerous erotic scenes and an exploding spaceship, Hannah’s.

Conquered by the aliens and taken aboard their ship, she realizes that she has become a slave. At the same time, she feels exceedingly attracted to the seven feet tall Bren, who claims ownership over her. In a mindbogglingly fast courtship, the two come together – and it becomes clear that Bren has dreamed of his human mistress for a long time. Their bonding is instant – and politically incorrect.

Pearl Tate pulls all erotic stops.


Mary Anne Yarde, The Du Lac Chronicles

Medieval Fantasy with a Dash of Mythology.

We are in post-Arthurian times, the Roman influence is still to be found, but the Saxon impact is strengthening. Alden, Eighteen-year-old king of Cerwin and a younger son of Lancelot Du Lac, was defeated and captured by Cerdic of Wessex. Alden has been lashed to within an inch of his life. He will be executed on the morning – but Annis of Wessex, daughter of Cerdic, has other ideas. She rescues Alden – and this is where the narrative begins.

Mary Anne Yarde weaves a tale of intrigue and violence, romance, and myth. There are vivid characters to love or hate – beautiful descriptions and excellent dialogue. All in all, there is everything that befits a historical fantasy. We are in safe hands, Ms Yarde knows how to create a believable web and hold a reader’s attention. The only thing that mars the reading experience, in my opinion, might be a moot point, but it needs a mention. So many series leave the story with an obvious hook. That means the novel has no true ending, which may fit other genres, but in this case, I at least long for closure. At 317 pages, the book isn’t too long to bring this chronicle to a more satisfying end.


Ellie Midwood, The Lyon Affair

French Resistance WWII Drama

A resistance-conspirator’s life is never simple. In The Lyon Affair, Ellie Midwood shows many aspects of the drama, the uncertainty, and the crises that can mar or make their existence. To survive, it is necessary to leave behind name and identity. It doesn’t end there; the resistance operator must learn to stay silent and detached. That is what becomes an issue for Blanche, newly arrived from the north of France. She enters the resistance out of conviction, but her character may not be suitable for the work. Other people in the Lyon Group are suspicious of her, but they still accept her for simple duties, like delivering a banned newspaper. The focus doesn’t stay on Blanche, and that’s what makes this such a compelling read. The gallery of strong characters is complex and convincing. There is Jules, or Marcel, which is his real name. He is young and fervent but also gets into trouble. The group leader is a strong man and manages the group carefully. When it breaks up, as all such groups may do, most of the members survive and move on to other work.

The German characters, especially Standardführer Sieves and Karl Wünsche, are vivid. They show the right mixture of humanity and nihilism to send chills down the readers’ spine.

While reading The Lyon Affair, it never occurred to me that this was the second part of a trilogy. That says a lot for Ellie Midwood’s writing acumen. Highly recommended.


Susanne Leist, The Dead Game

A Haunted House with a Vengeance

Vampires live disguised in a small town in Florida, mixing with the population. Newcomer Linda opens a bookshop and befriends Shana, who has an esoteric shop. There are young men and a blonde bimbo to go out with – and everything is fine until they get an invitation to a party at End House.

In Ms Leist’s village, there are several unexpected species. The hybrids, half human, and half-vampire, are difficult to single out. Then there are two groups of vampires, one of them working to protect humans and hybrids. The other group, the DEAD, wants to take over the world and rid it of human beings. Of course, the humans just want to live normal lives. Also, the village, and especially, End house, is full of illusions, some resembling the scary house in a fairground, except for the fact that they are armed with real predators and flying saws just to mention a few. The horror isn’t absent, but it is accompanied by not a few winks. It was an entertaining read that gave an insight into the antics of humans – let alone the vampires.


Elliott Baker, The Sun God’s Heir

The Ultimate Swashbuckler

The Sun God’s Heir has everything – ladies in distress, pirates, a proverbial wonder-woman, evil villains, heroes, comrades, magic, Egyptian mysteries, Pharaohs – and sailing ships (Windjammers). A case of less is more.

All in all, there were positive passages and well-developed characters. I’m in no doubt that Mr Baker had a whale of a time putting this tale together, and he has managed to give it some basis in the fifteenth-century reality. The sea fights are superb. The educational sword fights between the protagonist René Gilbert and his master, the Maestro are interesting and reminded me of certain passages in books by Rafael Sabatini. On the other hand, the use of metaphysical lucid dreams came across as a bit heavy-handed.

In my opinion, the use of French phrases like ‘S’il Vous plaît’ and ‘merci’ became repetitive. The triangle between René and the two heroines established the need for more books in the series, as did the reincarnated supervillain. The use of a hook at the end of the book always leaves me with a feeling of being cheated, but it seems to be the trend these days. No doubt, Mr Baker knows his metier.


M Ainihi, Rise

YA Fantasy

A girl, Amanda, and her father live a comfortable life together. They make weekend trips, and on one of these, Amanda finds an artefact. It turns out to be the prison, holding a jinni, Erol. Erol must serve her for the rest of her life. Amanda has no idea of the dangers surrounding her, but she soon loses her father and gets confronted with an evil Sorcerer and his creature a twisted Genie. The sorcerer sends Amanda on a quest and, unable to resist, she complies. This opens new worlds to her and forces her to change her opinion of a world where mythologies clash.

Sending a youth on a quest, a common YA fantasy idea that may seem inept, but Ainihi’s writing brings the different realms to life. This is as much a coming of age tale as a fantasy and that’s what makes it worthwhile.  The characters are solid, and all, maybe except the evil sorcerer, have a share of humanity. A fast-paced novella that serves as an introduction to the four-part series of which it’s the first part. Recommended.


Daniel Kemp, Once I Was a Soldier

The Key is in the Prologue

Melissa Iverson, newly orphaned and rich, plays lightly with her power and may live to regret it. Francesca Clark-Bartlett, socialite, and power-hungry is married to a man who wants to become the president of the US. Terry Jeffries is a British intelligence officer and a womanizer. These are the pro- and antagonists of Daniel Kemp’s intriguing thriller Once I Was a Soldier.

The (triangular) power game and the underlying sexual tension is one of the elements in this work, and Daniel Kemp uses it with skill. There are several levels of deception and that causes unexpected twists and turns. There is also a rampant maniac, who threatens Melissa’s life. The questions posed, span from ‘who is who’, and ‘who plays with whom’, to ‘who serves whom’, and why. Also, the identity of the maniac and his motivation comes as a shock to the unwary reader.

This is a complex and ambitious work with many characters and strong prose.


© HMH,2020

HM On Writing Stray Toughts

About Men-watching Women and Women-Watching Men and Everything In Between

People watch people. There’s nothing new in this, but the trend may have intensified over the last few decades. May I add that I’ve chosen the terms ‘woman’ and ‘man’, ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’ for clarity? With the gender diversification that is an important part of our world, it would be difficult to give everybody his or her due.

Every second cover of a romance novel presents broad chests and a six-pack, preferably naked. Throw in a few tattoos and the heartthrob of the twenty-first century appears. Opening such books, it is no surprise that the content matches the cover. The heroine is obsessed with the hero’s physique and sometimes it seems that his appearance is her only criterium for falling in love. The reader wades through broad chests, strong arms, and hefty built creatures, who often haven’t got much to say for themselves. If the heroine is only interested in a man’s appearance, no wonder that she gets into trouble.

Broad chests and rippling muscles are all very well, but other aspects may help to enlighten the reader to a character’s personality.

No doubt, this mirrors the situation in the world at present. At least, in the corporate world. Nobody who isn’t groomed to within an inch of his or her life should bother to seek an interview. It is good for the beauty industry of course. It is good for the nail salons and the beauticians, and all the other well-educated people who work in clothing design or peddle the newest diet. It is good for all the gyms that sprout all over the place. People get healthier through exercising and eating healthy food.

That is all good. All the same, many people can’t afford to follow the trendy diets or get the perfect haircuts. Some of these, especially the most vulnerable, get depressed and fat through being confronted with endless youth and beauty. They may be as worthy and as intelligent as those high-flying lookers. Don’t forget, some people just can’t or may not want to follow the trends. On that note, how can we forgo mentioning the surgeons that enhance or diminish body parts according to their clients’ wishes? Botched operations can ruin lives too. Is it worth it?

To return to the romance novels and their part in this. One could add Hollywood and – Bollywood films to the offenders. Don’t get me started on the advertising world. I digress. Is there anything as endearing as the floppy male with wit? What about people with eyes to die for? What happened to intimate talks and banter? A protagonist with pumped-up biceps can never cut it compared to a man or woman capable of a well-turned sentence. Am I wide off the mark here?

I agree that there is something restful in watching a beautiful person, regardless of sex. For me, that is something different from the current trend. Long and lean muscles seem more attractive to me, compared with the gym fabrications. Tell me what is wrong with a small pot-belly – if it’s combined with a soul? At the end of the day, how many men – or women – have ‘perfect’ bodies joined with an enjoyable mind? Of course, there’s nothing wrong with natural beauty, but it isn’t the beginning or end of the world.

Free us from heroines that can’t see a soul for a display of muscles. Free us from the hero who is attached to a mirror. Free us from heroines who spend their time shopping and believe that looks alone will engender happiness.

© HMH, 2020

HM On Writing

Reading at speed — New Reviews

JT Atkinson, Beneath an Indigo Moon

Thought Provoking and Bold

It is difficult to write about this book, but it must be done. Honestly, it wasn’t an easy read, because of the challenging subject. Still, it is an important book if one wants to understand the hardship, people of another sexual observation suffered and still suffer. In my experience, gay people are just that – people – and it would be wrong to ignore a book that was written to open our eyes to bigotry and intolerance. We can’t close our eyes to the witch hunts that took place in various forms throughout our collective history.

One might discuss if there’s too strong a focus on sex and blatant violence, but there’s no doubt that the time leading up to Stonewall was this violent. My only complaint in this connection is that both the sex and the violence became somewhat repetitive in Atkinson’s writing. His characters are believable, all the same.

It seems only right to quote JTAT’s afterword here, as it puts the theme into perspective: “BAIM is a work of fiction. It is, however, inspired by real-life events. In the early days of queer politics, the pervasive mood was one of fear, anger, and desperation. Twenty-five years after Stonewall, things had changed. The law had changed. People’s rights had changed. But attitudes hadn’t changed. There was a general feeling that twenty-five years of advancement had amounted to very little and a more active approach was required. It was during these times that the most extreme forms of queer politics came into being. Small groups, frustrated by the lack of direct action from the authorities, took it upon themselves to redress what they saw as an imbalance in society. Their thinking was simple. They would do to others what others had done to them. The events in BAIM are inspired by the activities of just such a group. The story may be fiction. The thinking behind it, however, was very real.”

I recommend anybody who wants to understand a group of people who have been persecuted too often for their situation to read this book.


Val Penny, Hunter’s Chase

Murder Most Foul, and Cocaine

Hunter Wilson is up against it. His former boss gets robbed, and there’s a large supply of cocaine knocking about. Things get complicated when the murderer doesn’t stop at one victim, Hunter is witness to the second – but only partly catches the runaway car’s registration plate number. It doesn’t stop there, but underneath is a tangled family affair that must be unravelled to close the case.

Val Penny presents her characters in depth, often with the use of multiple points of view. Penny has done her research, which can be seen in a realistic post-mortem scene. Her writing is complex and the story compelling.


Mari Collier, Twisted Tales from the Desert

Paranormal Stories from the American Mainland

In Twisted Tales from the Desert, Mari Collier lets her fantasy out to play. There are all manners of ghosts, active Stone Lizards, murderers, infantile and grown-up, just to mention a few. Certainly, there are twists and turns and surprises at every corner. The reader feels comfortable in her deft hands – except when the stories go to the bare bones of humanity. That’s when cold shivers run down your back. There is mythology and subconscious horrors to enjoy in this collection of short stories that I can recommend to those readers who dare.


Malcolm, Hollindrake, Threadbare

An Extraordinary Detective Story

Starting with DCI Bennet Book 9 throws you right into the water at the deep end. For me, the beginning was confusing, a marriage between Cyril and his beloved didn’t make much sense. No matter, as the story unfolded, it was easy to get to know the characters.

Snake bites, a shooting, a man with the brain of a seven-year-old child, a wish for revenge, a retired gentleman with a penchant for spiders, also, dead sheep, a biblical snake, and old photos form a puzzle that puts the young officer (Owen), who takes over from Cyril while he is on honeymoon, through the hoops. On his return, Cyril must help to disentangle the threads. The search for the murderer becomes increasingly urgent, and one of the clues to solving the crime lies buried in the Book of Genesis.

This is an unusual detective story, especially because of the many references to art and music.


LM Lacee, Dragon’s Gap

A Parallel Modern-Day World

They use cars outside Dragon’s gap. Inside Dragon’s gap, there are swords and magic. LM Lacee is a storyteller but struggles with writing. No doubt, thorough editing of her work would help the author to reach a potential that momentarily is hidden under uncertain writing and grammar.

Shapeshifters (half- and full-bloods), dragons, a goddess, elementals, witches, as well as magic, treason, love, and hate abound in Dragon’s Gap.

Once I got used to the strange use of the full stop, and the run-on sentences, it became easier to get a grip on the storyline. LM Lacee has good ideas and builds a believable world – it would be wonderful indeed if her potential could be unlocked through some editorial emergency treatment.


Lynne Fischer, After Black

Does Life Begin After Widowhood?

In some cases, this is true. Janet blossoms after a cowed existence, but all isn’t well. Her memories of Frank, her husband, dying can be pushed aside, but there is an upstart in her workplace. Marian is driven and wants the same promotion that would make Janet’s life at Masons Retail Store complete. Hence, Janet pulls all stops and wins. Does this change her life for the better? Not for a while. Janet must confront her demons and face her past.

In After Black, Lynne Fisher challenges the reader with a protagonist it is difficult to like. That it doesn’t stay that way is down to a masterly plot. Not only that, but all the characters must also learn and grow through unwanted and – for the reader as for the dramatis personae – unexpected developments. Ms Fisher kept me at the edge of my chair throughout this brilliantly written novel that explores love and loss, abusive and painful relationships, as well as the possibility of redemption. Anybody reading this will gain insight into the machinations that can mar or make humanity.


Nina Romano, The Secret Language of Women

Historical Fiction of Beauty and Refinement.

Lian meets Giacomo and sweet music emerges. The young Italian man and the part Chinese girl, who assists her physician-father can’t resist a love that binds them together until death. The secret language of women holds a large part of the story together. It’s an old language, written and spoken, that Chinese women have nurtured throughout the imperial period. We are at the end of this period and the Boxer insurgency accompanies the love story, separating Lian and Giacomo almost as soon as they meet. Their longing and love help them find one another, but not before Lian has been married to a peasant and born her daughter sired by Giacomo.

Nina Romano writes this story with confidence and knowledge. Still, to me, it seemed that she had a better grasp of Lian’s character, maybe through the first-person point of view. Giacomo comes across as slightly remote, and his part of the story is heavy with historical detail. This shows Ms Romano’s immaculate research and does her honour. All in all, I enjoyed reading The Secret Language of Women and can recommend it to everyone with an interest in the beauty and intrigue of imperial China in troubled times.

Sayara St Clair, Kiss Me, Bite Me

Amusing and endearing Love Story with Bite

Kayana Castello Branco literally bumps into Greg Morgan but must forget him as he’s already affianced to an ‘ice princess’. Later she meets him again and they hit it off, but there is trouble on the horizon.
This vampire tale is a boy-meets-girl story with a difference. When Kayana and Greg meet again, he is free but has a condition that makes their love-life daunting in some respects. They strive to ignore it, but Greg must eventually tell his Kayana about his craving. Not that it stops their love-affair. In some ways, it deepens their bond.

There isn’t much left of the brooding and angst that haunts you in Interview with a Vampire, there isn’t as much bloodshed, but there are unforgettable characters, humour, intrigue, and not forgetting sensuality.

In Sayara St Clair’s competent hands the reader goes from belly laugh to horror, and back. More than that, Ms Clair knows how to write erotic scenes that are steamy and convincing. Don’t wonder if your heart rate goes up at certain points in this fable. Highly recommended


© HMH, 2020

HM On Writing


Kathryn Gauci, The Embroiderer

Unfolding an Enigmatic World

A prophecy haunts Greek-born and Turkish raised Dimitra Lamartine to such a degree that she can’t love her grandchild, Maria. Her red hair and unruly character become the Ariadne thread that leads through the maze of this tapestry of paintings, couturiers, embroideries, and priceless jewels. In the darker parts, war and violence takes over, as well as fire, murder, and secrets. On her deathbed, Maria reveals her past to Eleni, her half-sister.

The luxury and dizzying elegance that encompasses the first chapters is set off with the brutality of the war.

Gauci’s debut is historical fiction, where history vies to take over. At the same time, it is a family saga with four generations of women – living, longing, and hating. The historical backdrop is necessary but threatens to become a mere history lesson. In my opinion, this is a problem with the debut novel that reveals a female world during the end of the Ottoman empire and beyond. Without a doubt, Gauci has learned to balance history and fiction in her later books. Recommended.


Paul Cude, A Right Royal RumpAss

Loveable and Impish Dragons

Prehistoric creatures, aka dragons, live and learn just like everyday children.

Paul Cude weaves a tale around two friends, a newcomer to the ‘nursery ring’ – and the school bully. Among dragons, an education encompasses several more years than is usual among humans. Other than that, the parallels between their world and ours are recognisable. This is a hilarious and witty take on schools, children in the guise of dragons, and the problems their teachers face when dragons (or children) get up to mischief.


Paul Cude, Frozen to the Core

Evil versus good

Can Man save his innocence? Can the naga survive? Will Man’s father take over the world? Will Man’s brother survive, and will Man’s mother?

Frozen to the Core is advertised as a book where evil wins. What occurred to me is that it’s all a question of viewpoint. Dragon/men or men/dragons are oppressed and kept on an icy world. There is one prisoner, who is the scapegoat for the race. The leader oppresses his people and tortures the scapegoat. His sons suffer under his maliciousness too and at this hangs a tale. Man (the eloquent name of the older son) is a thoughtful creature, but not only that, he discovers that he has a spark of the magic that is denied the captives on this icy world. Enter another magical creature, a naga, who recognizes Man’s potential. Evil and good are poised for another fight, but it is unclear who is evil and who is good in this match. Are the oppressors outside this world – or is the leader and father figure the incarnation of evil? Who will win, who is the oppressor oppressed? Is the captive dragon the culprit and is that the reason for the torture he suffers under the leader’s reign? Is the naga the real persecutor or are the outside forces evil incarnated? These are pertinent questions. Who can judge? What strikes me is that the father/leader is proud of his eldest son. There is hate between the two, but there is also – surprisingly – love. That discrepancy is what makes this such a compelling read. Cude manages to pose existential questions in this prequel to his White Dragon Saga. As one reads on the enigma grows. Who is malevolent and what is evil? This way any reader will be kept at the edge of his or her chair, trying to judge between good and evil.


Cindy J Smith, Voices In My Hea

Thoughts from A Gentle Nature

In this poetry collection, Cindy J Smith reveals her sensitivity, her religion, and her longings.

It’s heartfelt and honest but, in my opinion, the rhyming schemes and metres could be improved. Poetry is a demanding taskmaster and more variations, as well as bolder word choices, might enhance her output. Her poem ‘Opinion’ makes me hope that she won’t take my suggestions amiss.

It is admirable that Ms Smith lays her soul bare and isn’t afraid of sharing hurtful parts of her life. In that, she shows her poetic and gentle soul.


Rosalind Minett, Uncommon Relations

A Psychologic Rollercoaster

In the prelude, Minett leaves a clue to the conflict in the core part of the book. Her psychological analysis centres on the possible trouble infertility and adoption can pose.

Terry lives a humdrum life with his wife Gudrun. His career at a pharmaceutical firm isn’t inspiring, and his mate, Leon sees him as a ‘yesterday’s man’. He, like so many, nurses unattainable dreams of excitement and wealth.

The accidental meeting with his physical double pivots Terry into a whirlpool of expectations, dreams, and jealousy. He pursuits the unknown man, who turns out to be his twin, Gerry. Gerry, who has everything that Terry dreams of, doesn’t want to investigate their background. Terry goes ahead and stumbles on a hornet’s nest.

Minett unfolds the story with remarkable insight into the depths of human nature. Her prose is satirical and – sometimes – disquieting. Highly recommended.


Joel Schueler, Jim and Martha

Jim and Martha leave their normal and unexciting life to take up residence in an eco-village. In reality, this village was a squatters’ paradise with little pretension at farming etc. The characters on display are typified exponents of people you’d expect to find in a commune. Jim is a bit of a cad and Martha struggles with a mind that won’t shut down. Both are tragicomic, but it’s unclear what brought them together in the first place.

All in all, I didn’t enjoy this book. The prose was ornate and gave me the impression that Mr Schueler concentrated on displaying uncommon words. Some might call it stream of consciousness, but the stream often leapt from one character to another, without rhyme or reason. Could it be that this author is influenced by authors such as Italo Calvino and Salman Rushdie?


Marcee Corn, Always Thaddeus

A Beautiful and Profound Thriller

Beth mourns the death of her son to a degree where she denies it.
Sandy mourns the loss of a beloved husband – and blames her younger self for her sister’s death.
Andrew can’t forget his dead son and has withdrawn to a small island near the Maine coast.

The three main characters’ fates intertwine, and all converge in the Owl’s Nest, where Andrew has set up his abode.

The coastal landscape and weather play a large part in the ensuing tragedy.

There are deep insights into the ravaging influence of childhood abuse in the unfolding of the drama that centres around Beth. At the same time, Marcee Corn portrays the romance that blossoms between Sandy and Andrew, college friends that lose contact and meet again as mature adults.

This book unfolds in waves of troubled beauty.


Scott Finlay, Epoch

Postapocalyptic Thriller

How do people cope when they all suffer from amnesia? How can a society function without the simplest footing?

The epoch begins after an apocalyptic event that wipes out memories as well as rendering all electronics useless. The one saving grace is that people have or develop a physical remembrance of their former skills. Not that it makes life simpler. The struggle for survival brings out the best in some characters but the worst in others.

The main protagonist whose skill turns out to be writing and drawing (was he a reporter or an author?), a doctor, a ruthless businessman, a policeman, a murderer (a serial killer on the loose), power-drunk individuals, gangs, and an endearing nitwit, all come together in a small town and work – or fight against one another – to build a new civilization.

Finlay poses valid questions about our humanity, but he never preaches.


© HMH, 2020

HM On Writing

More Reviews

Alex Connor, Legacy of Blood

A Harlot’s Progress – Past and Present

Hogarth’s painting in the lost series ‘A Harlot’s Progress’ causes mayhem and murders when art dealers meet on a private flight bound for London. Connor takes her readers to seedy and coarse surroundings and uses violence as a plot device.

The convincing flashbacks to Hogarth’s time may feature the best writing in this thriller. The murders in the book’s present are graphic and frankly disturbing. All in all, the plot builds up to something spectacular, but in the end, everything falls flat. The reason is one of those barely concealed hooks to interest the reader in the next volume of a series. There are likeable and credible characters, but others are less aptly portrayed.

Where did Ms Connor get the idea that an illegitimate child would threaten the royal succession In England – or any country?

By the way, when looking at the print of that lost painting, number two in Hogarth’s prints known as A Harlot’s Progress, it becomes clear that the harlot isn’t pregnant. Moll Hackabout (Hogarth’s protagonist in the prints) aka Polly Gunnell (Hogarth’s model in Legacy of Blood) isn’t pregnant until plate three, and the print shows evidence of her dalliance with a notorious highway robber. Before then, she has come down in the world – the bailiffs are arriving to take her to Bridewell. In plate six, her son is portrayed as a halfwit. That would imply that an illegitimate halfwit would have the power to endanger the succession in the Royal House. Is that likely? Other than that, there isn’t much to say for or against the book. Reading it, you get drawn into the plot, but if the premise for the story is hard to swallow, there isn’t much chance that it will convince a wider audience.


Seb Kirby, Take No More

A Shady Part of The Art World

The intrigue in this thriller orbits around the search for famous artworks, hidden in the layers of old paintings. Kirby presents vivid characters and plot-driven suspense.

James Blake finds himself holding his wife in his arms as she dies, a murder victim. No wonder, that he must face being the main suspect. His reaction to that is to work on unravelling the mystery himself. That takes him to Florence and into contact with the mafioso underworld. It is hit or miss if he’ll survive. He gets help from his brother, an investigating journalist, and his partner, an Italian photographer.

The plot abounds with twists and turns. The only downside to this engaging thriller is that Kirby wraps up the narrative in a cursory manner in the last chapter. Personally, I’d have loved it, had the ending been presented in greater detail. All the same, this novel is well worth reading.


Lucinda E Clarke, A Year in the Life of Leah Brand

Suspense with a Humorous Core

Leah Brand has a dreadful year. From her husband’s beloved dog dying, everything turns out wrong and frightening. Leah comes to doubt her sanity and with good reason. Not because she is insane or anywhere near to it. Ms Clarke shows what mental abuse can do to its victims. Throughout the story, Ms Clarke keeps a light touch and a humorous tone, which makes the suspense elements all the creepier. Recommended.  


Jim Heter, The Lamia

Shapeshifting, Shamanism, a Female (Half) Goddess.

Dema Culver is a field agent for the DEA (the drug enforcement administration) – with a difference. On the surface a modern and efficient agent, underneath a vulnerable soul. The storyline puts her on the spot with wicked drug lords that don’t hold back from a kidnapping.

This is where the plot splits in two. The modern crime thriller meets an ancient race of goddesses. There are numerable half- and absolute goddesses in the myths going from the Minoan culture over Egypt and China to the Aztecs and Haiti. Sprinkle in the myth of Persephone in the guise of Dema’s sister Kore and you have a female orientated myth that spans defeat and victory in the fight between good and evil.

It was fascinating to follow how Mr Heter managed to fit together the two seemingly incongruous parts. In my opinion, the mythical parts worked better than the modern parts, as the protagonist’s scope for development appeared larger during her transformation from modern-day woman-agent to a reincarnation of an ancient goddess. All in all, a rewarding encounter with an unusual author.


Jennie Ensor, The Girl in His Eyes

A Challenging Theme, A Forceful Book

Laura, Suzanne, and Paul are stuck in a triangle of pain and lies. Their relationship and the consequences of their tangled lives are unfolded in this darkly suspenseful novel. Reading this, it becomes clear that this relationship isn’t just a three-way relationship, it is a family triangle of unhealthy proportions.

Laura is unable to hold down a job and has few friends. Her mother, Suzanne, is a grown-up child, who flees into new-age doctrines to overcome her loss of youth. Paul, the man in the house, resists facing his crimes and does his utmost to convince himself that what he does is normal. That his delusion results in damage, to a person outside the family, is the necessary consequence of his history.

Why Laura is withdrawn and insecure becomes painfully clear as the story unfolds. Why Suzanne became the wife of her husband, and why their marriage is falling apart, adds depth to the agonizing situation. Paul stays at the core of the family’s trouble. His aberration is the force behind his lies and delusions.

This is a strong and insightful unravelling of child abuse within families and without. In separate chapters, Jennie Ensor allows the three protagonists to speak for themselves, and the close third-person approach makes for compelling reading. Highly recommended.


JS Frankel, Master Fantastic

White and Black Magic

Paul is an orphan, but otherwise a normal boy. That is true, until he witnesses how a demon kills his best friend. The demons attack is so vicious that it deafens Paul.

Enter Master Fantastic. He is an elementalist and sticks to a sorcerer’s code of conduct. In his youth, he was a sorcerer’s apprentice and that caused unforeseen consequences. His former master dabbled in black magic, and that, among other problems, heaps dangers on his daughter, Myrna who is born deaf.

Master F needs a helper, preferably somebody who knows sign language. So, he takes Paul into his employ, but without revealing her history.

It turns out that Paul’s new job is unusual and his job-description inadequate. There are visits to parallel worlds, and there are unexpected dangers. Paul soon realizes that the demon he already met is his employer’s worst adversary.

This is a coming of age tale. Paul must use his practical sense and develop courage. Thus, he becomes a modern-day St George, facing a dragon – with a twist.

The characters are all well-developed and believable, from Paul’s uncle, who neglects Paul, to the demon, Hekla. As always, Frankel writes compelling and wittily, and with a nod to the mythical nature of his fantasies.


Barbara Monier, The Rocky Orchard

An In-Between Parable

We meet the protagonist, Mazie, in an old farmhouse that means everything to her. There we find the rocky orchard of the title, a kind of wasteland and perhaps a symbol of life.

Evocative and haunting, Mazie’s life unfolds. There are flashes forward and back in time, and they have a purpose. Monier reveals what it is, through Mazie’s conversations with an old lady, Lulu, who visits the farm. Mazie’s interactions with friends, with her family, including her brother, Woo, with her boyfriend, Sean, come to light in those conversations. As Lulu listens, she helps Mazie to understand and integrate her experiences. This enigmatic story about life and death will resonate with its reader for a long time.


Raymond St Elmo, The Stations of the Angels

A Literary Tempest

This is another whirlwind of an experience. You can’t call it a book or a novel. It’s an allegory. A parallel world – with all the customary members-only presented in Dadaist colours and surrealist guises. The world consists of several houses, the burning house, the ghost house, the clown house, the lion house, the mouse house, the moon house, the lighthouse the dolls’ house, the mourning house, the sewage house, the warlike house, the judging house, the dead(?) house. The central houses are the burning house, the ghost house, and the clown house. There are would-be vampires, desperate or indulgent parents, spiteful siblings, longsuffering teachers, a blind girl, a lunatic family. Most importantly, there are Clarence and Kim, as well as a handful of memorable secondary characters. In short, there’s every possible element that can make you wonder and think about the absurd theatre that we humans are so fond of staging. There’s scope for laughing too, but otherwise, this wouldn’t be one of St Elmo’s pop up worlds that let you look deep into the human soul.


© HMH, 2020

HM On Writing

My First 2020 Reviews

SS Bazinet, Open Wide My Heart Book 1, Traces of Home

Escaping Your Past Can Prove Impossible – But Can Also Be A Healing Journey.

Open wide my heart is a romance. It’s also an unusual and rousing tale of fear, violence, and how humans overcome unmeasurable challenges.

In the brooding prelude, Lea, the protagonist flees an abusive relationship, or her tortured past, only to be involved in a car crash and losing her memory. The driver, who’s a doctor takes her into his and his mother’s home. From there, Lea must find out who she is, and her journey influences everybody around her, including her own family and her fiancé, her doctor, his mother, and a psychiatrist.

SS Bazinet sets the scene and lets the characters work out their darkest fears, their secrets, and their loves. Her kaleidoscopic narrative is written in beautiful prose, one of the characteristics of her authorship. Open Wide My Heart is the first in a series, and that leaves me wondering what darkness will appear in the following instalments. Highly recommended.


JT Atkinson, Amongst Demons

Horror, Demons, Gay, Guilt, Darkness

The Darkness Within Triggers Despair

Amongst Demons is a ride on a horror rollercoaster. You don’t know if the demons are real or just a projection of guilt. Whose guilt? That remains to be seen. As a reader, you feel the hairs on your back rise: the half-world between the walls and under the floor carries you along. Is the dilapidated hospital part of a fantasy, is the funfair real or a projection of inner fears? The protagonist torments himself and you suffer with him. Be prepared to visit the deepest, darkest secrets that an individual can endure. JT Atkinson keeps the reader in suspense with a masterly plot.


Tiffee Jasso, Blue Lucy Revelation

SciFi, Ingenious, Entertaining, Philanthropic, Philosophical

Blue Lucy Revelation is an excellent read. Solid and inventive. The characters are convincing, likeable, and individual. My favourites are Puzzle and Liinka, both flamboyant and sophisticated. Another notable character is the remarkable baddy (his presence is confined to one scene) who gets hit and dies giving the reader an insight into his universe and personality. He, like everybody else, strives for what he thinks is right. That is a significant point. Who is to tell what’s right or wrong in a world that is far from faultless? At the end of the day, Blue Lucy is a moral tale that points out human flaws and how to remedy them. Greed and avarice don’t cut any ice with Tiffee Jasso. The storyline is full of surprises and keeps the reader guessing from start to end. Jasso holds together a huge cast of characters and gives each person in the gallery its distinction. There are love stories hidden at every corner, which adds to the humanity of even the aliens. What can I say? It is well worth it to dive into this version of earth, placed somewhere in our – relatively – near future.


Mark Carnelley, The Time Detective

An uncommon Killer, A Remarkable Detective

The Time Detective has a surprising concept. Meet a serial killer, a murderer with a gruesome penchant for numbers as well as a total lack of empathy. Obviously, that lack is a necessity if you want to operate on living and feeling humans only allowing them to die in the greatest agony. Meet his strongest opponent, an attractive protagonist who has some humanitarian grey zones. Both stumble across a wormhole that has its destination in the nineteen-fifties. Nobody else blunders into the past, but that could be because of the care both the protagonist and the antagonist take to be unobserved when entering the parallel world. The time warp gives both the murderer and the ‘time detective’, our protagonist, the opportunities they want. The killer uses his find to attempt to hide his crimes. The criminal investigator gets more than one use of his discovery. Apart from achieving the ability to solve the present crimes, he sees his chance to set things right in the past, which will influence many lives, without making damaging changes to the present. In a way, the ‘time detective’ creates his parallel world and uses it for all it is worth. Carnelley’s prose makes you accept the bizarre happenings and gory violence. The narrative captivated me.


Annie Whitehead, Alvar the Kingmaker

Historical fiction – At Its Best

Broad brush sweeps – a tapestry of long-forgotten times. AW’s message is that only humanity counts. The central figure attracts love and hate in equal measures through his humanity and sanity. Alvar the Kingmaker is a vivid and insightful read. A panorama of ancient times in the slowly uniting kingdom of England. Anglo Saxon heroes and power greedy clerics vie for the control of the land and the king. Strong female characters live and love without asking if they’ll win or lose. Political manoeuvring, greed, envy, and tragedies are part and parcel of the web on AW’s narrative loom. Highly recommended


Joy Ross Davies, The Witch of Blacklion

Enjoyable Paranormal Romance

Fear of Witches and folklore can mar any existence. The Witch of Blacklion is a piece of skilful writing. There is a sprawling gallery of characters to get to know. How many couples? The first one that springs to mind is the farmer and his artist wife. Number two is the doctor and his neurotic but beautiful wife. There’s the doctor’s wife’s mother (who turns out to be a designer – out of love and talent) and a bed & breakfast host. Even the angel and the shapeshifter form a relationship. Those are the main characters — and come across as likeable. Regarding drama the Lusitania and the missile springs to mind. There’s the fear of witches and the attraction to angels. Angels and Shapeshifters can fall in love with one another. People may find it difficult to cope with traumas of any kind, but love conquers all. The book isn’t especially long. There are all the gorgeous clothes. When have I encountered this many exquisite frocks? It works – and fits the genre.


Travis Borne, Lenders

Dystopian, Vivid Characters, Splatter Grade Violence

A postapocalyptic scenario. A small group of survivors. Among them a girl, Amy. It doesn’t take long for you to realise that she has a past, young as she is. What that is, and what it means for her future is the mainstay in this plot. Around her, you find believable, vivid characters, human and robotic. The bots are divided between those who aim to kill all humans and those who need them. Travis Borne takes you for a sci-fi rollercoaster ride of epic dimensions. Lenders is long, and it’s violent on so many different levels. The violence has a reason, which will be revealed, but it may not be the ultimate solution. This is up to the reader to find out.

Mr Borne has insight into the current development of artificial intelligence. In his writing, he poses an important question about the danger of playing with something that can easily get out of control. No doubt, he knows about Occam’s razor, the lex parsimoniae (the law of parsimony) and uses it to point out the dangers of creating an autonomous entity, vide the artificial human. Frankenstein’s creature laughs softly in the background. Highly recommended.


Millie Thom, Pit of Vipers

A Worthy Sequel to Shadow of the Raven

York, Wessex, and Anglia beleaguered by the Danes. Eadwulf can’t forget his beloved but settles for marriage. His thirst for vengeance is not slaked, but he hasn’t much luck with his endeavours. The sequel to Shadow of the Raven follows several of the already known characters but especially focuses on Alfred (the Great). His personality develops as he grows up and must follow his brother Aethelred on the throne. The Danes mostly appear as land-greedy raiders. Their brutality is legendary, but the British match their bloodlust. Millie Thom’s writing is as compelling as in the first volume. The ending is abrupt – explosive and makes clear that there’s more to come. This is a series well worth following.


© HMH, 2020

HM On Writing

Reviews, Reviews

AL Kent, A Journey of Three Degrees

A Journey of Love?

Love of journeying? This book is in two parts. In the first, a college student (Anna) falls in love with her professor. It seems a romance bound to fail, and Anna resorts to flirt with a friend. Her love for the professor stops the flirting. Here the first part ends. To get over her confusion and — perhaps — to make something of her life, Anna goes to France for a holiday.

In my opinion, the first part worked well — it was easy to relate to Anna and her friends. The second part was for me less convincing. It was marred with too much description, making me wonder if this was a travel magazine or a novel.

In places, the narrative came across as memoir or true story. Was that intentional? All in all, the author might benefit from mixing the cards differently. AL Kent has potential.

Ken Stark, Stage Three: Bravo

A Zombie Fantasy with Unusual Aspects

 The biggest surprise in ‘Bravo’ was that the horror didn’t take the main stage in this Zombie postapocalyptic fantasy. It was the characters, full-blown and believable, that carried the narrative. True, there were the expected pro- and antagonist types, but none of Stark’s characters was set in stone. They lived through hell, and their personalities developed stage by stage. Stark presents his readers with love and hate, leading to misunderstandings and final acceptance. That made this an impressive read. True, there’s much blood and gore, and Stark doesn’t leave much to the readers’ imagination. Supposedly this is what the average zombie fiction reader expects. The question remains, do they expect the earnest warning against taking science too far? Do they realize — and value — the call for humanity? These were the elements that impressed me the most. An author must have skills far beyond creating a plot. If that skill blossoms, it doesn’t matter what means and effects he or she chooses to bring across a message. This is the third part of Stage 3, but the book can stand alone. Highly recommended

JS Frankel, Wink

An Aeneidic Quest

Virgil, a hapless schoolkid, blinks in and out of his normal existence. He is one of the ‘invisibles’, kids that nobody cares to know or befriend, a target for bullies. His father is dead, and his mother finds it difficult to cope with her loss. As his vanishing episodes become increasingly frequent, the FBI steps in to find out if they can use Virgil’s extraordinary abilities. Their probing finally propels Virgil to another place. Is it in space or in a parallel universe? Nobody knows for certain. Lonely at first, Virgil finds a brave new world and, eventually, other people. Some are friendly, but in any world, humans veer towards strife. It takes only one ruffian to topple the balance.   

Frankel writes confidently and with a deep understanding of his YA readers. There is a savour of old myths and human longings in his compelling yarn. Not only that, it is a fervent call for humanity and a warning against abusing the world, any world we might find ourselves in. Highly recommended.

Cynthia Hamilton, Girl Trap

A PI and Event Planner with a Troubled Past

Madeline Dawkins suffers from nightmares. She’s escaped her persecutors but not the aftermath of her distressing experiences. Nonetheless, she functions in society and develops two(!) businesses. Her experiences make a PI career the obvious choice, but she’s enough of a woman to love creating beautiful events. To stay efficient she had an assistant, who had to leave because of an investigation trauma. Her new assistant is untested. Madeline isn’t certain that he’ll live up to her expectations. Her partner, Mike searches one woman in LA, while Madeline must open a dormant case and take up a twelve-year-old thread in a catholic school to find another woman. Against all odds, the cases intertwine.

Clearly, this is part of a series, but it wasn’t too difficult to figure out Madeline’s past. I haven’t read the first two volumes, but to me, it may have been an advantage. It amused me to put together the back story from the current happenings.

Hamilton puts her story together in a convincing fashion, although the double strain of two missing women makes for complications.

Despite the striking plot, the narrative failed to excite me.  I can’t pinpoint exactly what gave me a sense of being let down. Was it the omniscient narrator, telling me Madeline’s feelings? Was it too many adjectives? A remote third-person narrative can work, but in my opinion, it works better in other genres.

KV Wilson, Spiritborne

Shapeshifters and Werewolves Against the Inquisition

Man v Nature. The Covenant v Werewolves (Lycans) and Shapeshifters (Yeva’si). Skye Matthews experiences blackouts. They’re the beginning of a new phase of her life, a secret and dangerous phase. It takes her through her local urban landscape through secret portals to the world of Lycans and shapeshifters. In her everyday world, the Covenant reigns and wages war against everything not quite human. A tale of growing into a foreordained fate, Wilson puts emphasis on the obstacles a young woman must face. It doesn’t help that nobody has revealed this inheritance to her. It’s an interesting fact that there are parallels to the Spanish inquisition in the Covenant’s attitude to everything ‘heretic’.

KZ Howell, Dream State

A New-Age fantasy

Can dreams influence reality?

Murder, mind-warping drugs, clearheaded dreams, sex as a power game. Thriller or horror or both?                    

Edgar Cayce, the mystic and clairvoyant, features as the premise for this extraordinary tale.

Dream State draws on sleep experiments and lucid dreaming. In this connection, it may be important to remember that ordinary humans only use a fraction of their brains. This is a thoughtful analysis of the possibilities and dangers of experimenting with extraordinary minds. Recommended

Joyce DeBacco, Angel Wishes

A Gentle Romance?

Tea and comfort between friends. Will Addie choose to live for her quaint antique shop or go for a commercial career in New York? Which of her admirers will be her final choice? The childhood friend, Gabe or the flashy restaurant owner, Barry? Notable is the angel doll that infuses a red thread of wonder and hope throughout the story. Joyce DeBacco is the skilled narrator of this contemporary romance.

Ingrid Foster, My Father’s Magic

A parallel Universe, Albion, Steeped in Ancient English Myth

Esme, father Drake (Sorcerer), Fiancé Geoff (control freak and evil entity), half-sister Natasha, and childhood friend Stone. In a catatonic state, her mother is incarcerated in an asylum.

In the beginning, Esme’s father, Drake dies a seemingly natural death.

This sparks Esme’s education to become a Witch. It’s her fate to lead the witches, the wizards, the giants (Henry Brien and Helga?) the shapeshifters, and the fairies, in their fight against evil as well as for a natural, and balanced world.

JB Morris, Love Revisited

High Society Lady Meets Ex-soldier in an Unexpected Romance

Seth, an ex-soldier and Pamela, a society woman met on a plane. This apparently insignificant occurrence won’t leave their thoughts. He is unemployed and drifting, while she lives with her mother and daughter in her NY apartment. Their chance encounter sets new forces free and compels both to rethink their lives. Pamela’s mother does her worst to thwart the budding relationship. Morris takes us through the ropes and keeps us guessing.

It was easy to slip into this book and relate to its characters. Being a sequel to Seth, it shows Morris’s ability to combine back-story with developing the plot. His characters are easy to recognize and believable. Love Revisited is another take on the romance genre and works for me.

Ivy Logan, Broken Origins (The Legend of Ava)

Ava Carries the Ultimate Responsibility

Ava, a Heichi sorceress, can time-travel and sees what she shouldn’t see. Ms Logan builds the myths in this prequel to her fantasy series The Breach Chronicles on a simple premise, the interdiction against getting involved when time-travelling. Ava and her friend Selena break that prohibition and suffer the consequences. Their efforts create a worse situation than the one they wanted to avoid. The death of a young girl ultimately sparks rebellion and war between humans and supernaturals. Hence, the sorceressess’ withdrawal from the world and the beginning of the Chronicles. My only problem with this prequel is that it’s too short. Ms Logan hasn’t time or space to evolve her story. Through this, it becomes breathless and sometimes difficult to follow. Her ideas are good and deserve better.

Eva Pasco, Mr Wizardo

OZ and Kansas Revisited in Slick, Modern Writing

L Frank Baum didn’t live in vain. His inspired fiction lives and influences us to this day. So, in Eve Pasco’s Mr Wizardo. Her casual allusions to the rainbow bridge, the yellow brick road, and the other paraphernalia of OZ bring home a valid point. We need fantasy, courage, wisdom, and love to become human. To be compassionate and generous.

Doreen is Dorothy. She wears the red slippers. Of course, that’s an allusion to the film rather than the silver shoes of Baum’s invention.

Scott is the Scarecrow without a heart, Lyle the Lion without courage, and Tim the tinman without a brain. This is where the biggest difference shows. Mr Wizardo isn’t a fake. He’s the real thing and shows it through his compassion and understanding of the four misfits that assemble for his funeral.

This is a fun and appealing tale with a deep significance.

© HMH, 2019

HM On Writing

Writing prompts

Do They Work?

A while ago, I visited a prompt generator and, among others, got these: The poisoned Rose and The Mysterious Yacht. I’ve forgotten the rest. Couldn’t find anything else that was remotely interesting. It made me wonder if some of these sites are condescending and expect that you’re unable to think for yourself. The issue here is that if you’re uncertain about what to write, it’s seen as a failure. There is a difference though. For me, it’s easy to figure out what my novels are about – there was always this urge to write and explore the flawed family theme. You may ask why. But the answer won’t be to find in this essay.

With short stories and especially flash fiction, the situation is different. It’s a media that I tend to see as a playing ground. Sometimes the ideas come easily. At other times, I draw a blank. Tonight is such a night. No matter, the search for prompts made me think about writing. There is an endless theme.

What strikes me about writing prompts is that getting three random, or seemingly random, words work better for me. It’s probably because three words that don’t have a superficial connection pushes my brain to make associations. Voila, the start shot reverberates through my mind. Free association is a psychological tool that works for scientists (Psychiatrists) as well as musicians (composer/songwriter) and authors. Looking back at the two prompts I noted, they appear closed in on themselves. Should one mix them up though, the situation might change. We won’t use ‘the’ but mysterious, rose, yacht, poisonous. Perhaps one adjective is enough.

Rose/Poison/Mysterious/Yacht? Is that better? Let me see. Free association brings up Belladonna. A rose is a flower, A foxglove is a poisonous flower and the poison you get from it is belladonna. A beautiful lady can be called a rose. A beautiful lady could be rich too (it isn’t a must) but a rich lady could possess a yacht. There: we’ve connected rose/poison/yacht. What about mysterious? How to bring that into the equation?

There is something mysterious about beautiful ladies. Is that enough? That is an interesting sentence. It could be spoken by a man thwarted in love. Of course, he could be rich and possess the aforementioned yacht. Would our lover be thwarted badly enough to become murderous? Would he take her out on his yacht and make short work of getting rid of her? How? With poison, and a stone to weigh her down? Does he do this kind of action often? If so, he has evolved into a serial killer.

We have a story growing with hardly any effort. It’s true that being thwarted in love doesn’t necessarily make you a serial killer – not even of beautiful ladies. On the other hand, there could be a mystery buried in there. A genetic fault that he doesn’t know about. A childhood trauma that is buried deep in his subconscious. That would open an avenue for a psychologist – a criminal profiler – to take on the case. All of this it’s up to the writer to make plausible and bring together in a coherent plot. Without these jumps through several mental hoops – no story.

We’re far away from a logical plot, but it’s just a matter of letting the ideas mature. Don’t force the issue. Let the concept simmer for a while. The essence will generate a story – sooner or later. This is a game, but it helps to stimulate the creative muscles. So much is clear.

Next up is writing the story. Come to think of it, this idea is so complex that it could be fleshed out to a mystery novel or a thriller. If it must be a short story, it might be sensible to discard part of the associative ideas. Leave out the mystery and you have a revenge story. Leave out the beautiful lady – and you could write nonfiction about poisonous flowers. Not so appealing maybe, but people need to know about nature’s dangers. There are too many vegetable poisons. You don’t need a speckled band to traverse a small hole in a wall for creating suspense.

© HMH, 2019

HM On Writing

Review Time

Rebecca Bryn, Touching the Wire

Harrowing and Realistic

Touching the Wire is about guilt and shame. It analyses complexities that we habitually manage to avoid. It’s about surviving under impossible conditions – or chose the only way out. It’s about facing life when you wish to die. This book takes its readers down the abyss and leaves us no option but facing the horror that is deep inside every human being.

Shame and guilt are hard taskmasters. Rebecca Bryn shows the agony and regret, the love lost and the emptiness – the pain — and the forgiveness. Her strong prose makes the protagonist’s humanity realistic. She creates a balance between his background and remorse. Here is a vivid and absorbing read that will make you think — and think again. Highly recommended.

James Donaldson, Witching Hour

An Entertaining take on Cults

A doomsday setting, a blood cult, a damsel in distress. A hero who takes on an entire village in an endeavour to debunk the myth that holds the cult together. The elements of Donaldson’s Witching Hour are simple, but he adds some unexpected twists. The proverbial brawny henchmen add comic relief, but the protagonist, the hero, Nash knows how to fight. Nash’s thoughts sustain the plot in an entertaining read that will keep his readers enthralled.

Kate McGinn, Winter’s Icy Caress

FBI, Vengeance, Ice, Love, Betrayal

Kate McGinn is a good writer – I read one of her short articles, which was brilliant. In the hope that her novel writing would have the same standard, I bought Winter’s Icy Caress. There is much to say for her writing, the prose flows and the storyline benefits from her skill. On a personal note, her heroine’s obsession with her love interest’s looks became repetitive. Other than that, the plot was engaging with many twists and turns. McGinn keeps her readers guessing.

Cindy Davis, Final Masquerade

How to Escape the Mob

Witnessing her fiancé murder his best friend pivots Paige Carmichael onto a headlong flight. Without time to consider the danger, she takes some money and a precious coin out of her fiancé’s safe. Then she absconds with her booty. Her hope that clever disguises will help her gain safety backfires again and again. So far, this novel doesn’t distinguish itself from most suspense fiction. What makes it stand out is that the protagonist learns that there’s more to life than shopping and looks. At first, a shallow character, Paige learns that friendship, honest work, trust, and love for pets, as well as humans, enriches life. Recommended

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps, Wham

Dystopian Fantasy

Wham is a fitting title to a dystopian scenario that hits you between the eyes. There are elements of Margaret Atwood in the class divisions, but the authors have their own style. They bring across their message with compelling prose. The characters, be they elves, fairies, wizards, potentates, or ‘ordinary’ school children, are convincing and real. The world building is as strong, and the wasteland of the ‘normal’ world contrasts resoundingly with the hidden fairy country. As the first book of a series, it sets the scene for coming adventures. Here, my personal view is that ‘Wham’ is too short.

For me, the problem with series is that the necessary hook often leaves the reader without a sense of closure. True, if the ending is definite, there’s no reason to continue. All the same, there are several examples of series (e.g. by Guy Gabriel Kay or Ursula Le Guin) where every part has a conclusion, although the readers want to know what happens next.

This doesn’t detract from the excitement and heart-stopping agitation that Wham gives its audience.

Soleil Daniels, Halfborn

A Confrontation with Guilt

Coral hides. Her occupation is staying away from people — unless her needs force her hand. That’s when she seeks society, knowing that she must clean up afterwards. Money isn’t a problem, but her cravings are. Mostly she is in control and does only what is necessary. Enter Marshall Kevin O’Neal, and Coral’s life changes forever. She loses control for the first time in her life and there’s no way back — neither for her nor for him. His suffering makes her aware that there are questions to answer. The only problem is that she doesn’t know where to find the necessary knowledge.

From then on Coral’s life becomes one long trip. She must tackle her guilt, although she has no idea of the reasons behind her action. She and Marshall go on the road, to escape the consequences of their actions and to find out what they’ve become.

This is strong meat and an unusual twist on vampire mythology. Daniels presents an allegory that shows how lack of knowledge can pull people out of their comfort zone. Bonded in their lust and guilt, Coral and Marshall must learn who they are or face the consequences.

The characters are believable and engaging, but more than that, their troubled journey creates a brooding backdrop for the conflict they face.

William Gareth Evans, Within the Glass Darkly

A Traditional Vampire Tale.

WGE draws on the original vampire mythology, as narrated by Sheridan Le Fanu and Bram Stoker. Their inspiration partly originates in Hungary, with Countess Elizabeth Báthony (1560-1614), a serial killer of magnificent proportions. It may not be the greatest wonder that the vampire idea caught on in the nineteenth century, when female sexuality was ignored, and male sexuality was repressed.

WGE spins his tale, using some of the well-known Le Fanu characters, as well as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Van Helsing. The action takes place around the Parisian Vampire Theatre that Anne Rice celebrates in her vampire series.

With all these references, it is astounding that WGE manages to present his personal take on the mythos. He does it with panache and conviction, adding his own ideas and bringing his celebration of this bloodthirsty chapter in literary history to life. The introduction of a male counterpart to Carmilla, works wonders. The age-old vampire is a formidable fiend. His first killings make your hair stand on end. To find out more, read Within the Glass Darkly.

Millie Thom, Shadow of the Raven

Finding Balance among Vikings

In Mercia, the Vikings raid with impunity. That makes it easy for an envious brother to stage fratricide and usurp power. The true king’s family suffers the consequences. Millie Thom brings the political tensions, the greed and resentment to life. There is a gallery of believable characters, led by to boys, Eudwulf and Alfred. Through his captivity and thraldom, Eudwulf becomes familiar with Danish everyday life. To survive, he gets involved and learns to appreciate that Vikings aren’t all monsters. That doesn’t mean that he stops wishing for revenge, both against the Viking that killed his father and against the Mercian Traitor.  Back in Mercia, Alfred lives a toddler’s life, although he early develops an awareness that not everybody can be trusted.

Ms Thom shows her deep understanding of the historical period and presents her readers with a vivid tapestry of heroes and villains, Christianity and Norse mythology, day to day life, festivities, and raids. The battles are brutal. The love scenes are mesmerising. In short, nothing is missing in this glimpse of ancient times. A well-rounded read that is engrossing from the beginning to the end. Highly recommended.