Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Sky writing: Five stars.

Living in Suspension at GoodReads

by Winifred Morris

Genre: YA


A very accomplished YA novel, original, superbly well written and thoroughly gripping. High school misery, oblivious parents, unsuitable friends and, of course, the impossible love are all here, delivered in a fresh and quite literary approach, while the tone and language are still easy reading.

I wonder at how Morris keeps her balance in a work of this nature, which oscillates between the 'real' world (at least, the real world as Sky sees it for most of the book) and the brilliantly presented world of the story that Sky imagines and begins to write for the only class he likes in the school that is slowly killing him. I've read two of Morris's other works (Of Mice and Money, and Bombed), which were both highly entertaining and quite light-hearted, and now I begin to realise how badly I've underestimated her ability.

Winifred Morris has an uncanny gift, not only of a true vision of life as her protagonist but of successfully convincing the reader to see things as that character does. Garrett and Sky are both superb, and most of the minor characters are also clearly defined and convincing. The plot follows an entirely plausible path in the world most readers will recognise as our own, and yet the story is riveting. The pace is excellent, and while I could have wished for a little more to read I think the author has nailed the ending.

One of the finest YA books I've read in the last five years, and an easy five stars.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Rescue One: Deep Space Thrillride

Review: Rescue One
Rescue One on GoodReads

by Michael Gardner

Genre: SF/Thriller


A tightly written SF thriller, and I do mean thriller - this kept me hooked for the several hours, almost a single sitting, in which I devoured this shortish novel. Make no mistake, short is not bad. It's relatively short (about 35k words) because it's so tightly written and well edited.

A dynamite package lands in the lap of commander Sam Swain and his flawed but feisty crew, and they must keep up with the different ways it bounces. Characterization is just one of the outstanding things about this work; there is also the pace, plot, and their tangibly envisioned ship, Rescue One, almost a character in itself.

The presentation of the story unfolds in a nicely levelled and accessible way: Gardner is careful to present his oh so human characters individually, while never allowing the pace of the story to slacken. The ending has a very nice twist, about which I will say no more than... enjoy! Highly recommended, without any reservations. 

Fans of Felix R. Savage's The Vesta Conspiracy will almost certainly enjoy this, and vice versa.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Gone for "Gone for a Soldier"!

Gone for a Soldier


The Extraordinary Lucy!

A superb historical novel which embodies the courageous spirit of fictional protagonist Lucy Tessier. Set in the first half of the American Civil War, the blurb tells us: "Gone for a Soldier is the story of a real Civil War regiment and a fictional girl." A fictional young woman who, I think, represents many real life sisters-in-arms.

Kathy Garlock has inextricably intertwined the factual historical details of the First Minnesota Regiment with a few fictional characters and events. She has thereby managed to bring history so to life that it practically jumps off the pages. Her research seems to me to have been thorough and accurate. Her characters are painfully real. The incidents which seemed to me most likely to have been fictional turn out to be real, while those I accepted as most unremarkable in the context are Garlock's invention!

Lucy Tessier is a magnificent character who made me want to weep, laugh, and dance for joy. The story opens with Lucy, left alone and unprotected in the world, being sexually assaulted. She fights back with a knife and wins. Lucy resolves to take responsibility for herself, and to become her own protector. Fearful that she will suffer the fate of Ann Bilansky (a real historical character) and be hanged for murder, she decides to hide in plain sight by disguising herself as a man and joining the army. Lucy marches, works, fights and serves alongside the men of the First Minnesota Regiment, at Bull Run and elsewhere. Increasingly, she is called to assist with nursing the sick and the wounded.

Life in the Regiment is vividly experienced as it was at the time. The battle and action scenes are enthralling and convincing. The pace of the story is good throughout. Some modern readers might wish for a slightly faster pace in the first half of the story, but I felt that it was perfect for the literate historical novel it is.
Through her career as a soldier Lucy does find love, although the journey of her heart is as tangled as it is for most of us. Lucy's love story is a significant part of the book, but not to the extent of overpowering the historicity and the exceptional balance of the story. The romance is extremely well done, never sentimental but very moving all the same.

The writing is literate, easy to read and enjoy; in fact this is one of the very best-written books I have read in the last year. Editing and presentation is of the same professional standard as that of a commercial publisher.
The concluding material first gives closure to the story and then explains exactly what was historical and what was fiction, and crowns this outstanding work as a queen of historical novels.

I don't think I can recommend this highly enough, to anyone. It was absolutely wonderful!

Fallen Star

Midnight Star

by Danielle Ward


A great potential premise and a very good story which suffered, for my taste, from being badly overwritten in places. It's still a good story, with the modern world and classic Greek mythology being nicely interwoven with romantic fantasy.

Vegas is a stunning blonde who has a couple of gloriously stunning lovers and is surrounded by a cast of beautiful people, and a few stinking enemies. The book divides fairly well into two halves, the first half set in our world, more or less, and the second in the world of the immortals. Vega has to recover her memory and find all her courage to save the one she loves. The clever twists in the last quarter lifted this book from the genre cliché it would have been.

The writing was good but, perhaps because this is too far out of my usual reading, I struggled with the effusive descriptions of Vega's passion for her men. There were also a few too many editing flaws, mostly incorrect word choices. The language was also too colloquially American for me. However, the pace was good throughout, moving to fast towards the end, and Ward manages to maintain (to lengths that I felt were unnecessary) the tension in how this will all work out. I thought the end was pretty smart.

If you are a big fantasy romance fan, you'll probably love this.

What I'm Reading Now:

Gone for a Soldier

by Kathleen Kelly Garlock

I've read two-thirds of it at this point and the story is gripping, convincing, engaging and extremely well-written. This book is excellent!

Extract from the book blurb:
Over four hundred women disguised themselves as men and fought on both sides of the American Civil War. Some fought for love, some for money and others out of patriotic fervor. Lucy Tessier just wants to escape the hangman's noose.
Historical fiction with a bit of romance--Gone for a Soldier is the story of a real Civil War regiment and a fictional girl.

If you're having trouble getting hold of it, contact the author. 

Added to my  to-read list:

Well, really it was already on there, but coming up soon: 

The Pygmy Dragon 

by Marc Secchia

Saturday, 28 February 2015

'Ocean-eyes' Enchants!

Read an Ebook Week 2015

Review: The Girl who Sang with Whales

by Marc Secchia

Genre: Fantasy


The lyrical first volume in the new and quite original Islesong fantasy series, The Girl who Sang with Whales is beautifully written and follows the life-current of a young girl with a unique gift.

'Zhisu' for short, Zhialeiana-Susurrus lives alone with her mother on the last tiny island of the last small atoll, on the edge of the great Deep of the World Ocean. Dangers abound, and Zhisu is challenged by them to dive deep for the last of her courage. Sea-dragons are the very least of her worries,

Zhisu's adventures are not limited to overcoming dangers, hardship or abuse. There is a mystery about her origins which lies at the core of her story, and some call her 'Ocean-eyes', or mock her web-foot. Why is she different, and who was her father?
An enthralling journey begins, and Zhisu must navigate shoals and reefs, deeps and mountains, to find her way. Enemies plot against her, and friends equivocate. The loneliness of her heart is highlighted by contrast to the happiness, and unrequited love, of others.

I have to warn you: you may not want to read this book. It's the first part of the series, and the next is not out yet. You may die of longing to know what happens when the last wave breaks, that has swept Zhisu up in its violent surge, before you find out in the sequel. On the other hand, perhaps you should read it. You will not forget it, which will ensure that you won't miss the next part!

Smashwords: Read an E-Book Week 1 - 7 March
Suitable for fantasy fans of all ages, best for YA and young-at-heart adults, I love, love, love this book. Marc, please, PLEASE tell us when the next one's coming out, I can't wait! (There's a comment space right below this post, okay?)


Order from Amazon

Now out on pre-order is an original new Fantasy novella by E. A. Walker called Red and the Wolf. It's a dark, somewhat creepy retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale. 

The release date is April 6, but take advantage of the special Read an E-book Week promotion on Smashwords, running from the 1st to the 7th of March!

Smashwords: Read an E-Book Week 1 - 7 March

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Glorious Feynard!

Review: Feynard

by Marc Secchia

Genre: Fantasy (Grand Fantasy, in all senses!)


Feynard is an uninhibited, fully realised grand fantasy and engages the reader in a wonderful, complex story. The land of Driadorn is under threat from a mysterious blight, and a saviour must be found.

Kevin Jenkins is the quintessential unlikely hero - weak, sickly, abused and hopeless. He spends his life in his room, or in the library of Pitterdown Manor with the books he loves, when he's not recuperating from being the family whipping boy. Sometimes he has strange dreams, and increasingly he dreams of a barefoot girl dressed in leaves. Then there's Great-grandmother Victoria's distinctly strange legacy...

Kevin finds himself in the world of Feynard, an invalid in the care of a honeybear (a healer named Zinfandir), a unicorn and a dryad, who seem to believe that he's some kind of warrior (ha ha). Feynard is in trouble, and someone needs to save the world. Kevin's focus is on wondering how long it will be before he dies of asthma without his pump.

The unicorn is Zephyr, intelligent, amusingly arrogant, and kind. The disturbingly attractive dryad is Alliathiune - whom Kevin irreverently calls "Thooney" when he gets drunk. Alliathiune seems to have the kind and gentle nature of a bramble bush, at least on first acquaintance. Then again, brambleberries are delicious! Among other notable character creatures is the large and endearing swamp Lurk from Mistral Bog nicknamed 'Snatcher'.

The world of Feynard is a wonderfully rich and original creation, which I felt was fully realised. There is a great diversity of lands and creatures, and of the kinds of magic that are used. Flora and fauna of Driadorn and elsewhere are referred to and described, casually or in detail, in a way that comes across as completely natural and as if of a world one has really visited. I find it hard to get across just how well developed every creature is. The dryads in particular, and the unicorns, are revealed in every facet of who and what they are: biology, society, magical abilities, lifestyle and character.

The monsters are scary and their characters are almost as fully developed as those creatures of the 'good' side, with complex motives and their own plans and tactics. The good allies are also not simplistically depicted, and co-operation must sometimes be obtained in spite of divergent motives and priorities.

 The story offers grand fantasy adventure, daunting challenges and a complicated romance - very complicated, because humans and dryads, while related, are not the same species! This is an important part of the amazing - excuse me! - climax to the whole wonderfully complex tale.

Criticisms are hard to point out and frankly I don't really want to criticise this book because I loved it so much! However, I did notice that some character responses, rarely, are a little implausible. Snatcher's heartache, for example, is too readily healed. 
The writing, as always with Marc Secchia, flows well and is easy to read; however, in this book he uses a somewhat larger and more old-fashioned vocabulary than in his more recent books. I prefer this style which I feel is appropriate to the fantasy setting, and the editing seems flawless. 
The pace of the book is very good, although some may feel that the early parts drag a little, especially where Kevin is whining and feeling sorry for himself. Personally, I was very happy with the pace throughout, and hoped for a slightly slower ending - but perhaps that was because I was running out of book, and just didn't want it to end at all!

I have not read such a good fantasy book since Tolkien. Were I to compare this to something, it would be to Terry Pratchett's original Landover book: Magic Kingdom for Sale/Sold!, except that this is far bigger, better and more satisfying. I cannot understand why Feynard is not much more widely known except that, of course, it's Indie.

This is for anyone who loves fantasy - or even just likes it in a lukewarm sort of way. Get Feynard. Read Feynard. Love Feynard. Tell the world!

My thanks to Marc, who provided me with a free review copy for an honest and objective review.

Review: Romance in Four Seasons

by M. D. Gardner

Genre: Romance, Short Stories


Delight in Four Seasons

A delightful collection of four romantic cameos: the reader is surprised by Gardner's originality, delighted with the wit, wooed by the charm of each story and, most essentially, moved emotionally. In at least one case the being charmed by the story is wickedly deceptive; in another it's pleasurably satisfying.

The stories in order are: Bus Stop, The Big Four-O, Checkout and Ideal Match. I don't have a favourite, they're all good - but I must confess I needed a tissue at the end. Just one; I'm a man.

Gardner writes in a clean and subtle style; one is easily deceived into thinking the writing simple. Only when you consider the impact the author has had on the reader do you begin to realise how carefully the words have been put together. The editing is absolutely professional, although I feel that the quality of the current cover image is well below what the collection deserves.

If you enjoy romance, or good short stories, and especially if you'd like something other than the usual formulaic output of the big romance publishers, grab this one!

Currently Reading:

The Girl Who Sang with Whales

by Marc Secchia

Monday, 16 February 2015

The Librarian Gladiator: Tournament of Hearts

Review of Tournament of Hearts

by Dustin Bilyk

Genre: Fantasy


Extraordinary, Bold, and Riveting. Those are the adjectives that come to my mind when I want to describe Tournament of Hearts, the first novel in the brand new Librarian Gladiator series. This is powerful stuff!

The story offers an immersive YA and adult fantasy in which the most striking feature is the rampaging power of the imagination of the author. The story holds the reader's attention and moves at a rapid pace through a complex series of events. The writing is a little on the raw side but there is great talent here.

Hamelin is a mediaeval-style village isolated by a mountain wall (and more) from its world. There is a particular structure to the layout and administration of the village, and the reasons for this become clear in the course of the story. The unfolding of the background to Hamelin's situation is one of the strong points of this book.

Neven Fairchild is the librarian of the title, an unwilling gladiator in the life-and-death Tournament of Hearts. While a prospective reader might wonder about a comparison to the Hunger Games, I would advise them not to. Bilyk's world is fantasy all the way, and too clearly an original vision. Characters tend to be just a little larger than life, in the nature of a fantasy, and are extremely well depicted in a concise and effective style. Bilyk devotes equal attention to all his characters, both good and evil. Neven, Talpus (a real he-man), Delgado (a player of the angles) and Reoni (a fiery young woman and an enemy) are leading human characters, but the large cast includes creatures vaguely reminiscent of harpies, called the Jagisado, together with other strange humans and some of the most horrible monsters I have yet come across.

Neven's name has been drawn in the Tournament, and at the same time he begins to discover his own abilities, origins and purpose. He frantically searches for answers within the framework of the stresses placed upon him while time ticks away. If Neven loses in the contest, which many people confidently expect, not only will he die but his father as his only present relative will be killed along with him. On top of that, the life's work of their entire bloodline will be lost. The stakes could hardly be higher, could they?

The writing style is good and flows well, but is badly flawed by the poor editing. If this is to be an honest review, I have to say that - but I must add that this will not keep me from reading Dustin Bilyk again. He creates a fantasy that is just too good to stay away from! Perhaps I should mention that there is also a fair amount of foul language, although I did not feel that it was gratuitous. Bilyk's world is richly detailed, vividly presented and demands you return for more. The story is excellent and had me flicking pages as fast as I could go, all the way through.

If you are extremely sensitive to editing flaws I would suggest waiting for the paperback which I predict will be forthcoming before too long. Writers with this amount of talent are generally picked up by mainstream publishers at some point, and the editing gets done. I should add that Dustin Bilyk has promised to release a cleaned up version, so I'm not just guessing in the dark!

All other fantasy fans, get yourself a copy and dive in. I recommend this very, very highly. Five stars, less one for the editing.

Currently Reading


I'm just about finished, and - WOW! I'm feeling extremely spoiled to have enjoyed two amazing fantasy books one after the other. Review coming just real soon now!

Added to my To Read list:

Romance in Four Seasons
by M. D. Gardner