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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

Categories
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

Categories
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

Categories
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

Categories
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.

Categories
HM On Writing

New Reviews from My Writing Desk

CW Hawes, A Festival of Deaths

A Piano Playing PI

Liked the setup. A female PI and her assistant (and brother), living in a thirty-room mansion. She’s ex-CIA and has connections with the local police. They do most of their work at home, contracting out the field work to other PI agencies. Her brother is a chess enthusiast: he loves food and cooking. He must convince his sister to work. Without money, they can’t get (good) food. The case is a seemingly simple missing person scenario, but it turns out to be far from simple. It doesn’t take too long to home in on a suspect, but the case grows as the brother and sister team tries to solve it. They’re up against a cult (Aztek revival). The twists and turns take them around the sewers and into natural caves located under the city. There is a couple of kidnappings thrown in for good measure, but the two siblings may not succeed, even with the help of several other PIs — and the police. Will they catch the arch villain? Is there a hook for another instalment? After all, this is the first in a series. It was an enjoyable read, but it was hard to swallow the Aztek idea. To me, it seemed too melodramatic. Still, it was an entertaining read.

Gemma Lawrence, The Bastard Princess

Meet Young Elizabeth The First.

Tudor times, Henry the eighth. The daily life of his daughters, as seen through Elizabeth’s eyes. She loves her father and tries to forget and forgive what happened to her mother. Lawrence gives the reader interesting insights into the coming Gloriana’s early life, told in her voice. The fear and the glory, the misery and the triumphs, combine in a colourful tapestry. The portraits of Mary and Edward are vivid and convincing. Above all, Elizabeth charms the reader with her candour and observations. Meticulously researched, Lawrence’s book has merit and is worth reading. Highly recommended.

Julia Schmeelk, Heron’s Bond

The Importance of being Natural

Fantasy. A world, NewEarth, a sentient planet, peopled by dragons and humans. They can talk and communicate telepathically, at least if they have bonded with another and the world. It’s necessary to be able to put up mental screens against ill-willed creatures, from miners to immature dragons. All the same, the world is in balance with the universe and itself. Schmeelk builds a world that has the potential of becoming a Utopia. Will it last? The narrative is charming and could be read by a young audience as well as by adults who like fantasy novels. A little romance, and some unlikely friendships between dragons and humans, combine to a pleasant read in Schmeelk’s easy flowing prose. The message is clear: care for the world you live in and it’ll care for you.

Terry Lynn Thomas, The Silent Woman

An Entertaining Read

The Second World War is about to begin. The first fugitives arrive from Germany, among them, there may be spies. All this seems unreal to Catherine (Cat), who has her own problems to deal with in a childless marriage. Her husband maybe never loved her, and she suffers the pangs of unreciprocated love. Her sister in law, Isobel, despises her and shows it. It’s the old class pattern: Cat comes from a less privileged family, and Isobel grabs every opportunity to show Cat that she doesn’t belong. What could possibly be worse?

Enter Reginald, an old friend of her father. They meet — accidentally — and he offers her an easy job as a courier. It gives Cat various advantages: excitement, mystery, and a bit of cash. What she doesn’t know is that the information she delivers is classified. She gets targeted by a spy ring. Then her husband, the civil servant, who carried government secrets back and forth between his home and work, gets murdered. Cat’s work gets increasingly dangerous, but she grows with the danger.

Terry Lynn Thomas develops her spy, mystery, blackmail, and suspense novella with skill. All the same, to me, the suspense didn’t quite take off. In my opinion, everything went too smoothly. It wouldn’t be fair to describe exact scenes, but there were no moments when I believed the main protagonist in real danger. This is entirely my own opinion. Certainly, many readers of cosy mysteries may find the anxiety Cat goes through absorbing. There are convincing historical details in The Silent Woman. Maybe my problem with the story lies in the character development. For example, Isobel’s attitude towards Cat is predictable, so predictable that it’s hard to imagine she may have hidden depths. My four-star rating is a nod to Thomas’ skilful prose.

Bernard Jan, A World Without Colour

A Pet Lover’s Agony

Undoubtedly, Bernard Jan wrote A World Without Colour with his heart-blood. The question that remains, when reading his short opus, is if it would have been better to wait for a little longer before writing it. Sometimes, when one writes on open wounds, the danger looms that sentiment clouds the writer’s potential. That is a pity. Having said that, I must add my condolences. It is difficult to lose loved ones. Bernard Jan shows courage in sharing that agony, but the question remains what time and distance would have achieved in refining his writing.

Ellie Douglas, Death Oh Death, Horror Collection 2

Where Does True Horror Begin?

Does horror reside among monsters or human beings? In my humble opinion, humans are far worse than monsters. It is true that bone-crushing, bloodsucking ogres are part of our worst and subconscious fears. The question is, where do these nightmares origin, if not among humans? Blood-and-gore is all very well, but taken on its own, it may rate — merely — as disgusting. Why do we fear monsters? Is their worst crime that they are like humans? Do their random acts of violence signify more than their pure monstrosity? Is it true that, among horror authors, there are two varieties? Those who evoke the monsters outside, and those who reflect on the human subconscious and wake up true horror? Ellie Douglas is efficient, but in this collection, the tale that stood out was ‘Junkyard’. It caught my attention because the monsters are human beings. This allows Ms Douglas to play with the lowest instincts that we humans share. True to her style, there’s a large amount of blood and gore too, but the focus remains on men (and a single woman). My wish would be to see more of this and less of the grisly, and strangely innocent, bogeymen. After all, they merely feed even if they do so in a spectacular way.

CA Asbrey, Innocent Bystander

Are Bystanders always Innocent?

There’s much to like and admire in Asbrey’s book. Her heroine is well drawn and believable. Even her criminal love-interest and — assistant evokes sympathy. More than that, her writing and plot arch works, she keeps the readers on their toes. The Western setting, the female Pinkerton and heroine doesn’t go through the motions but investigates every option until she reaches the inevitable conclusion. The technical and forensic part of the book is clear and convincing. Ms Asbrey adds the love-story with little strokes that develops the picture throughout the book.  Lifelike characters and no-nonsense actions combined with unexpected twists keep the readers’ interest captivated from start to finish. A well-researched and enjoyable read.

Eileen Thornton, Murder on Tyneside

Ms Thornton brings murder and jewel thievery under the same hat, adds a little spy spice and serves up an effective yarn. Her protagonist is a mature woman with a penchant for shopping and a brain to solve mysteries through sudden inspirations. As such, it is an enjoyable piece of escapism. My reservations lie in a few plot inconsistencies — a white van that plays a role is never secured — let alone searched for. Ms Thornton’s easy-going prose makes up for the inconsistencies, she is a skilled narrator. It’s easy to get lulled into the, perhaps Agatha Christie inspired, book. The characters are plausible and the setting characteristic.

Ilene Goff Kaufmann, Rhyme & Reason

Ms Kaufmann has a Message.

One woman’s life in a volume. Kaufmann is an ambitious author. What she takes on is showing a woman’s life – any woman’s life in poetry. That includes misery, loneliness, heartbreak, abuse, as well as love, trust, childbirth, faith, and loss. A difficult task, but Kaufmann writes fervently and with deep conviction.

Caleb Pirtle III, Lovely Night to Die

A Powerful Thriller

A parallel world where men are nameless and women – dispensable. An assassin who decides to go against the rules. A female attorney who finds herself up against more than she imagined. A tentative romance that blossoms in a hopeless environment. A helping hand that waits until the last second. A narrative style that touches the edge between poetry and prose. These are the elements that create a lovely night to die. A storm looms to underscore the brooding atmosphere of an unusual book from Caleb Pirtle’s hands. With a sense of style and his clipped prose, he holds his readers in suspense throughout. This book grips the reader from the beginning, and its author stays in control to the end. Masterful. Highly recommended.

Again, I’ve read and enjoyed a collection of books, spanning from light entertainment over horror to deep-felt declarations and literary fiction. It is rewarding and instructive to read, especially when one wants to give something back to the world at large. Writers can’t be writers without reading. Also, writers tend to form strong convictions about what makes the writing stand out. For me, the criterium is whether a book makes me think. Of course, an entertaining book can give reason to relax, which is a reward in itself. The be-all and end-all of the matter is that every book adds spice to life.

Remember that writers want to communicate. Therefore:

© HMH, 2019

Categories
HM On Writing

A New badge of Reviews

 CW Hawes, A Festival of Deaths

A Piano Playing PI

Liked the setup. A female PI and her assistant (and brother), living in a thirty-room mansion. She’s ex-CIA and has connections with the local police. They do most of their work at home, contracting out the field work to other PI agencies. Her brother is a chess enthusiast: he loves food and cooking. He must convince his sister to work. Without money, they can’t get (good) food. The case is a seemingly simple missing person scenario, but it turns out to be far from simple. It doesn’t take too long to home in on a suspect, but the case grows as the brother and sister team tries to solve it. They’re up against a cult (Aztek revival). The twists and turns take them around the sewers and into natural caves located under the city. There is a couple of kidnappings thrown in for good measure, but the two siblings may not succeed, even with the help of several other PIs — and the police. Will they catch the arch villain? Is there a hook for another instalment? After all, this is the first in a series. It was an enjoyable read, but it was hard to swallow the Aztek idea. To me, it seemed too melodramatic. Still, it was an entertaining read.

Gemma Lawrence, The Bastard Princess

Meet Young Elizabeth The First.

Tudor times, Henry the eighth. The daily life of his daughters, as seen through Elizabeth’s eyes. She loves her father and tries to forget and forgive what happened to her mother. Lawrence gives the reader interesting insights into the coming Gloriana’s early life, told in her voice. The fear and the glory, the misery and the triumphs, combine in a colourful tapestry. The portraits of Mary and Edward are vivid and convincing. Above all, Elizabeth charms the reader with her candour and observations. Meticulously researched, Lawrence’s book has merit and is worth reading. Highly recommended.

Julia Schmeelk, Heron’s Bond

The Importance of being Natural

Fantasy. A world, NewEarth, a sentient planet, peopled by dragons and humans. They can talk and communicate telepathically, at least if they have bonded with another and the world. It’s necessary to be able to put up mental screens against ill-willed creatures, from miners to immature dragons. All the same, the world is in balance with the universe and itself. Schmeelk builds a world that has the potential of becoming a Utopia. Will it last? The narrative is charming and could be read by a young audience as well as by adults who like fantasy novels. A little romance, and some unlikely friendships between dragons and humans, combine to a pleasant read in Schmeelk’s easy flowing prose. The message is clear: care for the world you live in and it’ll care for you.

Terry Lynn Thomas, The Silent Woman

An Entertaining Read

The Second World War is about to begin. The first fugitives arrive from Germany, among them, there may be spies. All this seems unreal to Catherine (Cat), who has her own problems to deal with in a childless marriage. Her husband maybe never loved her, and she suffers the pangs of unreciprocated love. Her sister in law, Isobel, despises her and shows it. It’s the old class pattern: Cat comes from a less privileged family, and Isobel grabs every opportunity to show Cat that she doesn’t belong. What could possibly be worse?

Enter Reginald, an old friend of her father. They meet — accidentally — and he offers her an easy job as a courier. It gives Cat various advantages: excitement, mystery, and a bit of cash. What she doesn’t know is that the information she delivers is classified. She gets targeted by a spy ring. Then her husband, the civil servant, who carried government secrets back and forth between his home and work, gets murdered. Cat’s work gets increasingly dangerous, but she grows with the danger.

Terry Lynn Thomas develops her spy, mystery, blackmail, and suspense novella with skill. All the same, to me, the suspense didn’t quite take off. In my opinion, everything went too smoothly. It wouldn’t be fair to describe exact scenes, but there were no moments when I believed the main protagonist in real danger. This is entirely my own opinion. Certainly, many readers of cosy mysteries may find the anxiety Cat goes through absorbing. There are convincing historical details in The Silent Woman. Maybe my problem with the story lies in the character development. For example, Isobel’s attitude towards Cat is predictable, so predictable that it’s hard to imagine she may have hidden depths. My four-star rating is a nod to Thomas’ skilful prose.

Bernard Jan, A World Without Colour

A Pet Lover’s Agony

Undoubtedly, Bernard Jan wrote A World Without Colour with his heart-blood. The question that remains, when reading his short opus, is if it would have been better to wait for a little longer before writing it. Sometimes, when one writes on open wounds, the danger looms that sentiment clouds the writer’s potential. That is a pity. Having said that, I must add my condolences. It is difficult to lose loved ones. Bernard Jan shows courage in sharing that agony, but the question remains what time and distance would have achieved in refining his writing.

Ellie Douglas, Death Oh Death, Horror Collection 2

Where Does True Horror Begin?

Does horror reside among monsters or human beings? In my humble opinion, humans are far worse than monsters. It is true that bone crushing, bloodsucking ogres are part of our worst and subconscious fears. The question is, where does these nightmares origin, if not among humans? Blood and gore is all very well, but taken on its own, it may rate — merely — as disgusting. Why do we fear monsters? Is their worst crime that they are like humans? Do their random acts of violence signify more than their pure monstrosity? Is it true that, among horror authors, there are two varieties? Those who evoke the monsters outside, and those who reflect on the human subconscious and wake up true horror? Ellie Douglas is efficient, but in this collection the tale that stood out was ‘Junkyard’. It caught my attention, because the monsters are human beings. This allows Ms Douglas to play with the lowest instincts that we humans share. True to her style, there’s a large amount of blood and gore too, but the focus remains on men (and a single woman). My wish would be to see more of this and less of the grisly, and strangely innocent, bogeymen. After all they merely feed even if they do so in a spectacular way.

CA Asbrey, Innocent Bystander

Are Bystanders always Innocent?

There’s much to like and admire in Asbrey’s book. Her heroine is well drawn and believable. Even her criminal love-interest and — assistant evokes sympathy. More than that, her writing and plot arch works, she keeps the readers on their toes. The Western setting, the female Pinkerton and heroine doesn’t go through the motions but investigates every option until she reaches the inevitable conclusion. The technical and forensic part of the book is clear and convincing. Ms Asbrey adds the love-story with little strokes that develops the picture throughout the book.  Lifelike characters and no-nonsense actions combined with unexpected twists keep the readers’ interest captivated from start to finish. A well-researched and enjoyable read.

Eileen Thornton, Murder on Tyneside

A Cosy Mystery

Ms Thornton brings murder and jewel thievery under the same hat, adds a little spy spice and serves up an effective yarn. Her protagonist is a mature woman with a penchant for shopping and a brain to solve mysteries through sudden inspirations. As such, it is an enjoyable piece of escapism. My reservations lie in a few plot inconsistencies — a white van that plays a role is never secured — let alone searched for. Ms Thornton’s easy-going prose makes up for the inconsistencies, she is a skilled narrator. It’s easy to get lulled into the, perhaps Agatha Christie inspired, book. The characters are plausible and the setting characteristic.

Ilene Goff Kaufmann, Rhyme & Reason

Ms Kaufmann has a Message.

One woman’s life in a volume. Kaufmann is an ambitious author. What she takes on is showing a woman’s life – any woman’s life in poetry. That includes misery, loneliness, heartbreak, abuse, as well as love, trust, childbirth, faith, and loss. A difficult task, but Kaufmann writes fervently and with deep conviction.

Caleb Pirtle III, Lovely Night to Die

A Powerful Thriller

A parallel world where men are nameless and women – dispensable. An assassin who decides to go against the rules. A female attorney who finds herself up against more than she imagined. A tentative romance that blossoms in a hopeless environment. A helping hand that waits until the last second. A narrative style that touches the edge between poetry and prose. These are the elements that create a lovely night to die. A storm looms to underscore the brooding atmosphere of an unusual book from Caleb Pirtle’s hands. With a sense of style and his clipped prose, he holds his readers in suspense throughout. This book grips the reader from the beginning, and its author stays in control to the end. Masterful. Highly recommended

I don’t have much to say for myself this time. Only this:













© HMH, 2019

Categories
HM On Writing

Book Series — and Film Remakes — Menace or Miracle?


Lately, book series and film remakes have haunted my mind. One of the triggers was re-reading the Earth’s Children series. However exciting, however unusual the subject, it is devastating to see the deterioration of style, and accuracy, going through the series. No doubt Ms Auel’s research is pristine, but her writing becomes increasingly lazy and, in the later volumes, there are too many pointless repetitions. After a while, it becomes impossible to ignore the numerous paragraphs, easily recognized from volume to volume, mostly word to word. That, together with the endless and repetitive descriptions mars the reading experience. True, Ms Auel may not expect her readers to have the stamina to read all the books in one go, but there will always be those who do. The excessive repetitions show lack of respect for her readers’ intelligence and ability to remember what they’ve read.

Is it fair to say that many authors who mainly write series also tend towards using one or two tested and successful templates for their narratives? Sometimes with excellent results, sometimes with less convincing outcomes.

Film remakes often face the same problematic. It isn’t that simple to follow a successful rendition with excellent performers. It’s been done, and there are some remakes that are better than their inspiration. That situation repeats in book series.

That doesn’t change a few facts. Undoubtedly, there is an element of hygge in recognizing characters and storylines. On the other hand, people, and maybe especially readers — as well as film buffs — tend to get fidgety if a plot gets too obvious. Who can blame them? Readers want to be surprised. No matter how gorgeous a frame is, there must be something more. What do the readers want? What is the secret longing when film-buffs recline in their seats?

I believe that they want food for thought.

We all love and know Poirot and Jane Marple, but we also know that the stories use the same plot with variations. Some are inspired, some are less so. There are numerous authors who write one book after another . . . and their fans love them. Barbara Cartland springs to mind. As well as Ian Fleming, Agatha Christie, and several others, often authors in the crime genre (Ngaio Mash, DL Sayers, Georges Simenon, Maria Lang etc. the list is endless). All are entertaining, some are excellent, but they all have one thing in common. They have one (in a few cases more than one) main character that decides the flavour and the narrative arch. There are stock ingredients like Poirot’s moustache and patent-leather shoes, Miss Marple’s pink knitting, Sherlock Holmes pipe, violin, and syringe, Agent 007’s gun and fast cars. That reminds me that Lord Peter Wimsey also has a fast car, but he rarely shoots.

Has it become too easy? Who can tell? It is true that this is a period that sees more releases every day. There is no weekend without at least three new films opening. Indie publishers have reached over a million titles astoundingly fast. No wonder that it became necessary to re-use old subjects. On the other hand, that isn’t a new trend. Could this explain a rumour that keeps cropping up? Is it true that several successful authors have writing teams to churn out their fare, the faster the better? Maybe — maybe not — but there is a lingering suspicion that something is rotten in the publishing world.

Whatever made me put my fingers into this potential hornets’ nest? Perhaps it’s time to say something positive? That’s easy. While somethings may be rotten, which is the case in every wake of life, there’s no doubt that there’s an abundance of talented writers who take their art seriously. These are the emissaries who seek new ways of expression. They write with their heart and their intelligence and become a fresh breeze in the literary world. Their ideas may spark new visions among their peers. Thus, there’s still hope. Without a doubt, this is the situation in the film world too. If there is a steady stream of pioneers in the arts, we have nothing to fear.

© HMH, 2019

Categories
HM On Writing

Still Catching up. New Reviews

With another eight reviews to go, there isn’t much to say, except that I hope my thoughts on these books will whet your appetites in reading them yourself.

MJ Rocissono, Beyond the Wicked Willow

A rewarding read

MJ Rocissono knows his myths and uses them deftly in his poignant coming-of-age story. It is a delight to read a well-written saga that weaves in and out of various historical periods in an effortless way. The young adult characters come across believable as well as amiable — their mythical mentors and adversaries are powerful symbols for learning to understand the everyday world they live in. Highly Recommended.

Nina Romano, A risky Christmas Affair.

A well written (crime) caper.

Serena must think on her feet and take uncalculated risks in this literary romp that takes the reader from Rome to London and to Spain in less time that it takes to say fiddlesticks. The gallery of characters includes Serena’s unfaithful husband, a luckless robber, and an English MP. Naturally there are diamonds galore as well as big wads of money. Nina Romano pulls all stops and hits bullseye with this Christmas romp. The book is light and tempting: a perfect meringue. Recommended for escapist reading on a dreary day. 

Serena lives in Rome. Married. Unfaithful husband. Attempted robbery. Shooting the robber in the hand. Transporting diamonds to London. Selling them for her husband. Scampering off to Spain.

Roger Bray, Blood Ribbon

Serial Killer on the loose

A thriller with a feisty heroine. That being said, part of the thrill lies in experiencing fragments of the plot through the serial killer’s eyes. Add to that, his foible for red ribbons and dunes as well as his long-enduring success. His prospective victim survives and dedicates her recovery period to find her would-be killer. Only a PI, a former criminal investigator, goes all out to help her. He suspects that several unexplained murders may be connected. Bray shows his psychological insight in the way he handles his main characters. Highly recommended

Kathryn Gauci, The Carpet Weaver of Usak

Poignant and well-researched

Anatolia at the beginning of the Great War. The Greek and the Turks live in peace in a double village. They work together but there is a clear divide. Then the assassination in Sarajevo pivots their world into the war that would kill a generation of young men and destroy the Ottoman Empire. This is the backdrop for the Carpet Weaver of Usak, a heart-wrenching saga, of loss and war, but also of great love. To be precise, it’s more than that. Gauci shows a deep knowledge, both of the historical events and the carpet weaving procedure and trade. Her narrative illustrates how the trust between two peoples that lived in harmony was destroyed. This is a poignant narrative that touches on humanity in its many forms. Love and hate, the horrors of war, friendship and neighbourly help is part of the warp and weft of this highly recommended novel.

Katie Mettner, Meatloaf & Mistletoe + Hotcakes & Holly

Mettner has a gentle voice

Two Christmas books. Two love affairs (that end in happy marriages) between scarred and insecure humans. One small town, a diner with a difference, inspired by the legendary Florence Nightingale.

Likeable and insecure, our first protagonist must take over from her employer in the Nightingale Diner. She doesn’t believe she can win love from her childhood friend and knight in shining armour. He has similar doubts (not for the same reason) but takes up the challenge. Her past, especially her mother, prevents her from thinking clearly.

In Hotcakes & Holly two employees in the same diner, a waitress and the cook, experience their personal brand of heartache. She because of her horrendous childhood etc. Moreover, she’s ill and depressed because of an untreated thyroid defect. It takes trials and tribulations for the two to find their balance.

Both books are touching and heart-warming. Ms Mettner writes easy-going, lilting prose that fits her theme. Two enjoyable reads.

Charles Peterson Sheppard, Flint of Dreams

Dreams and Reality Intertwined in a Dizzying Plot.

A reluctant hero.  A young man who must find his feet between the easy choices that his background offers him (a criminal career) and the harder, spiritual path that he’s predestined for. His counterpart is Breezy, a voluntary fiend who works with chemically induced second sight and enjoying gratuitous violence. Pare it down to these elements and you have the traditional good versus evil epic. In Charles Peterson Sheppard’s hands, it becomes much more than that. There’s nothing generic about the plot, and the Native American scenes and dreams give a rare insight into a magnificent people. Flint’s abilities propel him into unchartered territory, but his self-doubt hampers him until it’s almost too late. On the other hand, his counterpart has all the cards in his hands — and he plays them.

There is a gallery of minor characters surrounding the hero and the villain. They’re fleshed out and believable, especially the Chinese girl whose encounter with Breezy almost sends her over the edge. Add a cast of agents, parents, scientists, insects, students, drunkards, siblings, and you have a fast-paced, from time to time terrifying and violent sit-on-the-edge-of-your-chair, modern tour de force.

SS Bazinet, Michael’s Blood

A Vampire with a Difference

A reformed vampire, guardian angels, friendly humans, philosophy, questions about humanity, ethical awareness, and blood. Not human blood but the essence of an angel. These are some of the elements that make Michael’s Blood unusual. Arel, the protagonist vampire, lives on rats when we first meet him. This is the only allusion to Anne Rice and a certain interview. From the rat encounter, Bazinet takes the reader into a new experience. Here, killing rats may well be a symbol of Arel’s fall from grace. His guardian angel follows him through every humiliation and offers a way to redemption. For a vampire, it’s hard to go through such a transformation, especially as it is a gift bestowed by an angel. Why? An angels’ blood forces the vampire to confront his past. Through this experience, painful as it is, Arel gets to know a brave new world for vampires, one where it is possible to grow and maybe regain an element of lost humanity. It takes struggle, an alternative struggle between angels and this strange derivation from humankind. Clearly, the angels never lost their love for other beings. Is this the kind of love they once displayed for the daughters of men but refined so that it will transmute angels as well as men?

Bazinet writes with assurance and panache in this rare treat.

RH Hale, Church Mouse

Horror, Horror, Harrowing, and Compelling

Is this a horror story, a vampire novel, or something else? It is a modern myth, steeped in cynicism. The Church Mouse of the title is a young and gifted girl, who’s given up on life. Homeless, she leaps to the chance of becoming verger in the church of her childhood. It doesn’t matter to her that she has seen and heard horrors there already. It may seem to be an easy job and a hideout from a too complex world. When she crosses the threshold, she enters a nightmare: things go from bad to worse in quick succession. The reader gets drawn in, and it isn’t easy to disengage. Step by step and increment by increment, the true owners of the church’s underbelly creep up on the protagonist and RH Hale’s readers. Cleaning a church after weddings and church coffee sounds like an easy job, but this is just a cover for the nightly workload. Are her new employers what they seem? Are they cultured and knowledgeable, sometimes charming bohemians, or is there more to them than meets the eye? The question will find an answer as the reader moves through several rings of a Dantesque hell in the maze under the church. Rona is an outsider, but her flirtation with vampires transforms her from an isolated youth (every man or woman is an island) to a mighty power and, finally, she may become part of a deadly covenant. Did RH Hale choose the protagonist’s name with this in mind? Highly recommended.

Everybody agrees that it is important to support indie authors. Everybody agrees that buying a book and writing a review for it, makes all the difference for the author. Why does it then seem next to impossible to get reviews, unless one begs?

If begging is required, here is my plea. I believe that Snares and Delusions is well worth a read. I know that some people must’ve read it but very few have taken a few minutes to write about it. It is true that I’ve received some interest lately, and that has made an impact on sales. What could, would, and or wouldn’t happen if people left a review? If you hated the book, write about it. If you loved it, write about it. If indifferent, well, maybe you can’t be bothered, but write about it anyway.

Authors don’t want to live in a vacuum. They love words. They would adore your words about their book. Maybe the market is swamped with books by unknown authors, but it is possible to see that as something positive. A cornucopia of books, what’s not to love about that? Rescue an author today. Write a review. Short critiques will be accepted with gratefulness, long and in-depth ones, with greed: vociferous and drooling. Make an author happy. Make my day?

© HMH 2019

Categories
HM On Writing

Catching up with my Reviews


It’s been too long since I published a new batch of reviews. I suppose life caught me unaware: I thought I’d done more than I did. Now, in 2019, it could be an important New Year’s pledge to remember that posts don’t multiply on their own. It doesn’t even help to write reviews and publish them on Amazon or Goodreads: they don’t jump across to my blog of their own accord. Without further ado: here are some books I’ve enjoyed, some books I admire, and some book that grabbed my attention.

SL Baron, Vanilla Blood

Feeding the myth: Vampires love blood

What is it that brings people to write about vampires? Is it the age-old blood cult that rears its head? Once the Danes sacrificed horses’ blood in large silver vessels. Also, Hebrew demonology has its examples: Lilith, feeding on babies’ blood. Vampires are part of folklore since forever. The nineteenth century fostered what we recognize as today’s vampire, beginning with The Vampyre by John Polidori and continued by Le Fanu (Camille). Dracula and Nosferatu entered the scene and cemented the genre and inspired authors like Anne Rice. In this case, SL Baron’s Vanilla Blood represents the genre.

Vampires are the ultimate human predators. They’re charismatic and ― undead. They survive from century to century, as glamorous, intriguing characters, who feed on their prey’s blood, discerning the taste and quality of their meal as any gourmet would do. Contemporary vampires don’t die easily. No silver bullets, Garlic, or stakes can harm them but falling in love might become their undoing.

Baron writes an absorbing modern-day version of the old myth. Her narrative stirs up emotions when the protagonist loses her brother and her lust for life. From there the plot unfolds until its climax of revenge and reconciliation. Highly recommended.

Barbara Monier, Pushing the River

Poignant: Barbara Monier’s family saga poses important questions

A sprawling narrative about a house full of ghosts. A dysfunctional family on one side: a fifteen-year-old mother-to-be and her mother. On the side, our protagonist finds a new lover that, to the reader, seems too good to be true. He moves in, with his entire possessions in a paper bag, and leaves when things get overly complex. In the wings, sons and daughters with more, or less, successful lives. In the centre, a woman willing to be there, willing to be everything for everybody. That gives her much heartache — and much happiness. This sums up the plot, but what binds it all together? The central character? The proverbial mother-creature? Is this book turning the spotlight on motherhood? Is it questioning when it is time to let go? Or, is it questioning the way we treat our families? Taking everybody for granted is a recipe for disaster, but so is being unwilling to take responsibility. To me, Pushing the River raises several important questions. It is refreshing that Monier doesn’t force the answers down the readers’ throats.

Daniel Kemp Why, A Complicated Love

An emotional rollercoaster

Why starts with a sex-obsessed protagonist and develops into a tragic love story. There’s every possible element of a mafioso set-up, but it goes further. The story has certain elements that remind me of Rigoletto (the Duke of Mantua, his court jester, and a young innocent woman, caught in the power game belonging to a medieval court). It’s brought forward to a contemporary period, but the essence is similar, and the victim is female. There are some differences: two female leads, the young woman and her mother who suffers a similar fate, except that she’s left her innocence behind years ago. Why is well written and believable. The protagonist survives to lead a new life of sorts, but he is damaged beyond repair. He knows this but is able to make the best of a lousy deal. The book starts at the end: the love-object has already died, and Kemp rolls out the narrative on this background. This isn’t a book that lives through the writing as such. It is the heart-wrenching plot that stays with the reader. Still, the writing brings across the characters’ agony. Nobody exists without suffering. Not in the world, Daniel Kemp opens up for his readers. The strong element of crime and sordid humanity makes the love-story even more devastating. It is a surprisingly thoughtful book. Highly recommended.

Loraine Conn, Sentinels

Carling is destined to save the world. A compelling read

Fantasy. A fight between order and chaos, vaguely set in Britain around the Roman invasion. Ms Conn plays with the idea of a secret domain, which could be Logres of the Arthurian myth. This realm is hidden within the country, but contrary to the Arthurian legend it’s probably located in Scotland. The sentinels, guardians of the old way of life, present an interesting idea as well: a play with colours – representing the rainbow. Could they represent the rainbow bridge of Norse mythology? No doubt, Ms Conn knows her myths and has an affinity with the occult history of Britain. She shares that with authors such as CS Lewis, AE Waite, and Charles Williams. This is no scientific thesis though: it is a captivating story about the One True Child, the heroine and a strong female protagonist. She lives and learns to fight and love through her connection with an extensive gallery of individuals. Highly recommended.

Leslie Hayes, Not Like Other People

Not Like Other Stories

A collection of short stories. Weird and wonderful characters flit across the pages There’s the lonely traveller, the troubled teenager, the overprotective mother as well as actors, writers and, misfits: all in condensed form. Ms Hayes uses each short-story to create a precise impression. There’s skill as well as fantasy in her writing. An admirable achievement.

Ben Westerham, Too Good to Die?

Crime Doesn’t Pay — Addiction Kills

Westerham efficiently describes an eighties’ private detective at work and leisure. Sometimes he mixes up both, sometimes he gets into trouble, sometimes he has a lucky break. This is a bleak story about troubled people, but Westerham lightens up the mood with his, sometimes ambiguous, wit.  Recommended.

James Glass, Stone Cold

An Assertive Novel

A courtroom drama ― a criminal investigation. A tortured criminal investigator forced by her circumstances to come to terms with childhood trauma. An ambitious novel from the hands of J Glass.

Karl Holton, The Weight of Shadows

The Past lies in Shadows.

Sophisticated Thriller that, in my opinion, touches on elements of Dante’s Hell and the Seven Deadly Sins. A weight of shadows is possibly what connects the large cast of characters, especially the protagonist, Benedict, and the ‘grey eminence’, Hanson. These two both struggle with their pasts and work to overcome former sins. Their counterpoint is the mysterious hunter who features in the first chapter. Again, this is my opinion: he is the Doctor, although the Doctor could be like Jupiter, the Greek god, in his thousand manifestations.

On the surface, there are several coinciding crimes: a jewel heist, several assassinations, and abductions that involve international crime rings, a complex team of investigators from the regular police to CIA, MI5, MI6, Interpol, and NCA. Everything links up, with the crimes complementing each other like Chinese boxes. Highly recommended

Jessie Cahalin, You Can’t Go It Alone

A sweet and thoughtful book

You Can’t Go It Alone is a wistful ― and wishful ― narrative of how humans can help to bring out the best in one another. It advocates community spirit but doesn’t shy away from showing how troubled we can be. The female protagonist goes through a painful and uncertain IVF treatment, which threatens to estrange her from her husband. Throughout the work, Cahalin illustrates how people could come together and make the world a better place. Is this a romance with roots in everyday life or merely an expression of hope? Wishful thinking? These are the questions the reader must ask, but there are no easy answers.

Doug J Cooper, Crystal Deception

Science Fiction with Emphasis on Science?

Crystal Deception might well build on some of the ideas in McCaffrey’s books. The idea of sentient crystals is part of the trilogy. The author of CD has taken this idea further. Unfortunately, he gets himself involved in technicalities at the beginning of the book, giving in to a natural wish to explain the theory behind the idea. Initially, that reduces the excitement. Once Cooper has set the scene, the book grabs your attention, but some readers might give up before reaching the plot crystallizes. The sentient crystal becomes a believable and pleasant acquaintance, maybe because it possesses the most fleshed out character. There are sections in the book that read like a computer game (random violence in a closed-in area), but the plot comes together towards the end.

I have one final thought to share with you: if you read a book, if you enjoy it — or maybe hate it — never hesitate to tell the author. I know, some authors only live in their books these days, but there are plenty who live and write out of their hearts and guts. Give them a hand up: they deserve it.

© HMH, 2019