Sunday, 24 February 2019


3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.

In a Nutshell: 23 short stories/flash fiction, in the genres of horror/thriller, with a bit of fantasy/scifi

As is usual with short story collections, these vary.  I very much liked the first one, On the Seventh Day, set on board ship, and hoped it set the scene for the quality of the rest of them.  

The ideas behind the stories were entertaining; Mr Demmer creates atmosphere well, and has a good sense of suspense and timing, so although there were no dropped-jaw-worthy twists or denouements, I still enjoyed reading most of them.  Some hinted at a larger story, which was artfully carried off.

What weakened the collection, for me, was the dialogue, which was often unrealistic; I kept thinking, 'but people don't talk like that'.  Not in all of the stories, just some.  I thought some of them were a little over-written, too, and unnecessarily wordy; sometimes, 'stink' works better than 'pungent aroma'; knowing when to be spare with prose is one of the arts of great storytelling.

Others that stood out were the title story, The Sea was a Fair Master, The Snake, or the Humans?, and the last one, Sea Ate Nine.  
I think if the author spends more time on his dialogue and perhaps thinking up some really good twists in the tale now and again, to make them more memorable, he could do very well in this genre; he certainly has talent.  And if he ever turns his hand to longer fiction, it should definitely be set at sea.

Sunday, 17 February 2019


4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK

How I discovered this book: recommended by a friend

In a Nutshell: Post apocalyptic, seven years after civilisation collapse, in Texas

Seven years ago, society broke down after lots of folk went crazy, killing themselves and others, because of voices in their heads.  The population is sparse.  Defender tells the story of lone survivor-on-a-motorcyle Pilgrim, and sixteen-year-old Lacey, who has spent the post-apoc years living with her recently deceased grandmother, safe from the horrors of the world.  Pilgrim agrees to take Lacey to a town several days' travel away, to find her sister and niece.

What I liked:
  • The characterisation in the first 20%.  I thought it was terrific: the alternating chapters of Pilgrim and Lacey, their backstories and inner worlds.  I thought, 'this girl can write up a storm'.  Loved it.
  • The first encounter with baddies, a gruesome brother and sister waiting in a motel for unsuspecting travellers.  Brilliantly done, horrific, as dark as you can get, and riveting.  At this point I had five stars lined up, all the way.
  • That atmosphere of bleakness, generally.
  • The evil rednecks.  What's a post-apoc book without a tribe of 'em?
  • The ending.  Sad, but satisfactory, tying ends up but with plenty of room for moving forward to the next episode.
  • The fact that an English author has written a book set in the US and made it totally believable.  For that, I take my hat off.

What I was not so sure about:
  • The length of time in which petrol deteriorates actually makes the whole plot unfeasible.  But perhaps one can suspend one's disbelief over that; I did so for The Walking Dead, after all.  Ditto dead body deterioration; they seemed to stay unstinky and not beset by rigor mortis when necessary for the plot.
  • The food.  Aside from the odd can of peaches or alphabetti spaghetti, there is little indication of them ever eating anything, or where they found food or fresh water.  I don't require a prepper survival manual, but the survival itself is part of what I find interesting about this genre.
  • The whole 'Voice' thing didn't really work for me, but this is personal preference, not a criticism.  It was well done, and often amusing.
  • I didn't find the second half as compelling reading as the first, although it picked up again in the last ten per cent.

To sum up, when I first started reading it, I was blown away and thought, oh brilliant, I've got a new post-apoc series to get my teeth into.  Couldn't put it down.  Although I didn't continue to feel this strongly about it, and although I think the publishers have done the author a disservice by hyping it as the next The Stand, which is bound to invite derision, it's a good book.  Ms Todd is clearly very talented, with the elements I liked less more to do with decisions made by the editors than the author herself; perhaps they can suspend disbelief more easily than me!

Saturday, 9 February 2019

HOMETOWN BOYS by Mary Maddox @Dreambeast7

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.

In a Nutshell: Mystery/character drama set in small town Illinois

I liked this book a lot.  It's listed under crime/mystery and women sleuths, and the plot is intricate, convincing and interesting, but it was the characters and relationships between them that kept me turning the pages without being tempted to skip-read.

Kelly Durrell returns to her hometown of Morrisson in Illinois when her aunt and uncle are brutally murdered, supposedly by her ex-boyfriend, Troy.  Although he has confessed, some people think there is more going on behind the scenes, and that Troy was merely a hired hit-man.  This storyline is interspersed with complications within Kelly's own family; gradually, the two intertwine.

The book begins with the murder, when Troy is egged on, and it is clear that others had an interest in what he is about to do, but as the story unravels it becomes clear that there is far more to it.  Mary Maddox paints the picture of claustrophobic, small-town life so well, from the depressing existence of Kelly's blinkered mother, to the criminal trailer trash, to the old schoolfriend who wanted to be a model but is now an overweight housewife.  In Morrisson, everyone knows everyone else's business and, more problematically, makes immediate and often uninformed judgements about it.

This is the sequel to Dark Room, which I read and reviewed for Rosie's Book Review Team back in 2016, i.e., so long ago that I might as well not have read it (I have a shocking memory), but this did not hamper my enjoyment or understanding of the plot.  There are a few instances in which it is clear that there was a book preceding this one, but enough information is given, in a concise fashion, for there to be no doubt about what is going on.  It might have been a good idea to put a recap in the front of the book, though, all the same.

The novel has a neat ending, with all threads tied up except one, that is left dangling.... for Book 3?  Nice one, I recommend. :)

Sunday, 3 February 2019


4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: got to know the author via Twitter, so took a look at her books, and chose this one.

Genre: Travel memoir, Kenya

A lovely book about the author's two week safari in Kenya.  There is so much fascinating and beautifully written detail about the wildlife and the people she met, but it's more than that; Susie Kelly's love for the country, where she lived when she was a child, shines through.  I felt it was her spiritual home.

She highlights the problems of the area, with particular mention of the Samburu tribe and their desperation to gain financial help from 'rich' Western tourists; this is quite heartrending, though in other ways not so, because she notes how many of the people seem content, and smile a lot, despite having what we would perceive as so little.  She also talks about the injustices towards the people to whom the land belonged, during Colonial days - as a child, of course, she did not see all this. 

The book was delightfully 'real', too - Ms Kelly bemoans, for instance, the fact that she forgot to pack a bra, which causes her some discomfort and potential embarrassment throughout the trip.  Other aspects I liked: each chapter is headed by an example of the Swahili language.  There are beautiful sepia tinted photos of her guides throughout, and at the end you can look at a slideshow of all the pictures she took while she was there - this is really worth looking at.  At the end, too, she gives links to some of the places she visited that exist only because of donations.  

It's a lovely book - I definitely recommend.