Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Book Review: Forsaken by J.D. Barker


Overview from Goodreads book page:

New from Master of Suspense, J.D. BARKER

Bram Stoker Award Nominee - Superior Achievement in a First Novel 

Book One of the Shadow Cove Saga

From the witch trials of centuries past, an evil awakens.

Inspired by Actual Events
Excerpt from the Journal of Clayton Stone – 1692
She was examined today without torture at Shadow Cove township on the charge of witchcraft. She said she was wholly innocent of the crime and has never in life renounced God. I watched as they brought her out. A poor, sickly thing, worn by her time behind the walls of her prison. Her bared feet and hands bound in leather, her clothing tattered to that of ruin. Despite such condition, her head was held high, her eyes meeting those of her accusers. She still refuses to provide her name so we remain unable to search baptismal records, nor has her family stepped forward to claim her as their own. We have no reason to believe she is anything but an orphaned child. I find myself unable to look at her directly in the moments preceding her trial. She is watching me though; with eyes of the deepest blue, she is watching me.

Thad McAlister, Rise of the Witch

When horror author Thad McAlister began his latest novel, a tale rooted in the witch trials of centuries past, the words flowed effortlessly. The story poured forth, filling page after page with the most frightening character ever to crawl from his imagination. It was his greatest work, one that would guarantee him a position among the legends of the craft.

But was it really fiction?

He inadvertently opened a door, one that would soon jeopardize the lives of his family.

She wants to come back.

At home, his wife struggles to keep their family alive. Secretly wondering if she caused it all…a deal she made long ago. A deal with the Forsaken.

My review: Great horror storytelling doesn't just get under your skin, it stays there, merging with your flesh and bones like this was how it was always meant to be.

Forsaken, by author JD Barker, takes us into a world where the writer may have created something very nasty - very nasty indeed. Not only that - it threatens to harm our hero - Thad - and his family.

Things are not looking good for the McAlisters.

Thad is a writer, and as with most writers in the Stephen King universe, if you are a writer, you will suffer.

I could see the heavy King influence here, but to labour any more on that point would be to do the author a disservice. 

Forsaken is a very well crafted horror thriller. The modern day breakdown, to the very minute things are happening in the book isn't a new thing, but it date stamps things nicely whilst being interspersed with the writing from Thad's book - the book that almost writes itself.

The witch trial and the court events are brilliantly handled...dare I say I enjoyed these more than the present day events? I could be in the minority there.

Taking the book as a whole, whilst it certainly has its moments I wanted to be shook out of my skin - so I think I must be a bit desensitised to horror by now.

The story works because everything is logical, believable, plausible.

Whilst I couldn't root for Thad as much as his wife, Rachael, I found myself leaning towards her and her daughter Ashley's plight.

Told over three days, it's the sinister 'creep' of the book that is the star - you really feel like some impending doom is coming, and you as the reader will want to know what it is.

I loved - absolutely loved the ending. In fact, it could be said that JD Barker has 'out-Kinged' King - but how, you say?

Well, Stephen King often mentions his earlier works in his later books, but they are done more like pop culture references than anything else. 

In Forsaken, the author pays homage to King, but it is so well done, so clever, so 'ahhh...that's it!' that you just have to take your hat off to the author.

This is book one in the Shadow Cove saga, and it's a hell of a breathtaking start.

My thanks to Maxine for introducing this book to me.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Book Review: The Paradise Will by Elizabeth Hanbury

From the start of the book, you can tell that  The Paradise Will is going to be a very different kind of regency romance, something I have to say is a trend of the author, Elizabeth Hanbury. I have read all of her books now, and must say that the twists and surprises in the story make for an entertaining read.

Alyssa Paradise is the inheritor of a vast estate from the recent death of her uncle. Whilst this sounds wonderful, and is clearly a wonderful gain in a period where women were still subservient to men, there is a devilish caveat employed in the will - that Alyssa must spend time with the rather oafish Sir Giles Maxton.

If this sounds weird, it gets more strange that she must dine with him every week for six months. Twenty-four months in the company of someone you hate - perhaps hate is too strong a word, but Alyssa certainly dislikes being around Giles, even if he has a title, good looks, money and so on.

It's like her dear (now, not so dear) departed uncle has played a rather nasty trick on her.

This was one book from the start where I did not want Alyssa and Giles to get together. I thought she was far too good for him. But that would be too early to say that was how the book was going to end. This is a longish tale, so it is inevitable other characters will be introduced that will cause conflict between these two principal characters and around them.

Note: I loved the mention of Chancery Lane (I was there in April 2015) and it's just typical of Alyssa to get hamstrung by the lawyers that are in residence there!

Things are complicated further by the fact that other parties are involved. I can't imagine in today's world where a partner / fiance/e or spouse would be allowed to have dinner on such a regular basis with someone of the opposite sex, so God only knows how it would have been received back then!

Speaking with others in the story, they find it an incredible arrangement too, exclaiming "Would Tom (her uncle) want you to have dinner with some old fossil?"

These kind of lines and great humour are throughout Miss Hanbury's books, and amongst the exciting drama of her writing, it takes an author of real skill to drop in cool humour at key points.

The key driver of the book for me was not 'will they or won't they get together', it was more about how they would come to agreement over the rather preposterous instructions of the will. Fortunately, Alyssa is the best of heroines, spirited and steadfast without being overbearing or heavily opinionated.

Giles is a character one warms to, but not easily, and maybe that's the intention. I thought the regular dinners would be a source of both fun and conflict and it makes for a very enjoyable and interesting book.

I think of all of Miss Hanbury's books, this is the one with the heaviest Georgette Heyer influence, which is no bad thing. In fact, the way The Paradise Will is so masterfully crafted, it's great to know that a regency period author of great skill will entertain for many more years to come.

Alyssa is a heroine that no-one cannot fail to fall for (gosh, that's a lot of f's in one sentence!) but not because she is cherry blossom in her appeal. She's a practical girl who knows what she wants, and also what repulses her. In the end, she wants what is bequeathed to her, and no-one could blame her for the choices she makes.

My other reviews of Author Elizabeth Hanbury

Book Review: The Revenge of the Pumpkins by Lacey Lane

The Revenge of the Pumpkins
Who says short stories cannot pack a punch? I listen to a lot of Radio horror serials, some short, some long, some too long - and in general, I enjoy them all. With Revenge of the Pumpkins by Lacey Lane, I was not sure what I would discover amongst its pages, but readers of this tale will read a delightfully concocted tale that happens over just one night of Halloween. 

Who would have thought pumpkins could feel something, but in this tale, you'll feel every cut! I was grinning and grimacing as the tale reached its conclusion. I'm all for reading highly detailed and crafted horror anthologies, but Revenge of the Pumpkins, in its few pages, hit harder than many I have read. 

Lacey Lane is a talented author with a Tarantino type style of wickedness in her storytelling. But you'll smile and enjoy every word as I did.

Probably not for kids, it is too gruesome. But later teens to adults will love it.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Book Review: Only Enchanting by Mary Balogh (The Survivors, #4)

Overview: Book Four in The Survivors series, Only Enchanting focusses on characters anew, as far as I know. This is the second book I have read of Mary Balogh's, and this is a far more engaging story with the rich Viscount having his heart broken, along with the societal shame that comes with such things.

Encouraged to make amends with her, he ends up in the behold of young Agnes Keeping, who is young but far from naive, though she has never been in love.

Viscount Flavian Ponsonby doesn't seem an appropriate match for Agnes. He's obscenely rich, rather muddled in his ways, and stammers for good measure.

But he's rather charismatic too, and is more than capable of charming the good hearted and kind Agnes.

Perhaps the best of us can understand the first flush of love, though we were probably in our teens or younger when this happened.

Agnes, however, falls for Flavian, and I wondered could this really work as a story. It certainly does as a fantasy, and the author is smart enough to direct her characters cleverly. The games are well played, but I started to wonder was Agnes just going for the security that the Viscount offered.

He seemed to get a wicked glee from saying, "I'm rich, you know."

But all is not as it seems, with Flavian proposing marriage to Agnes the real game is one where he wants to hurt his former love in the most extreme way possible. It's fair to say that in my view, Agnes was like the older sister I would have liked in real life. And I certainly would have kept her away from the leech-like Viscount.

Agnes adapts well to her new situation, finding resolve in her that maybe even she didn't know was there. It's the little details that stand out for me in books. A scene where she is interviewing new ladies to help her is funny and well done.

One of the girls, Madeline, confidently says that Agnes can call her Maddy if she wants to, citing that Madeline was a rather long name, and too grand for the like of her family. It was her father who insisted they all bear long names, so whatever else they didn't have in life, they would at least have their names.

Whilst critics of these kind of stories may say that the outcome is never in doubt, Mary Balogh keeps us guessing. It's a fun, book, a great follow up to The Escape, and stammering full of himself Flavian won me over...late in the book.

Agnes is a great character though, and I hope she makes a return for later books in the series.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Book Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

There's plenty of reviews for this book already, so I won't labour on that. I had been lent it by another SK fan, and at 1200 pages, it's quite a tome. I have read it reasonably quickly, and as usual, I'm hardest on my favourite authors.

First, the good news. Reading Stephen King is like coming home. You are pleased to have gone on your travels, but now you're back - you're home, and it's a good feeling.

The writing is well done as ever, it's interesting and has a very good hook at its core - that of time travel, which made me think that this book could fall flat on its face, or turn out to be brilliant. As I closed the book, I am a little inbetween on this, though leaning more towards four stars than two, hence the three star rating.

The initial characters are interesting and hold the reader's attention. The idea of travelling back in time to prevent one of the most infamous episodes in American history is one thing, but it opens up a real Pandora's Box where you find yourself asking...why stop there? Why not go back and stop Hitler assuming control of the Nazi party? How about going back further to biblical times? How about going back to 1997 in the UK and stopping Labour taking power, or Thatcher in '79?

Now that last comment may wind up some UK voters, but maybe it is intended to. King doesn't hold back on his political views in this book, and some reviews appear to snipe at him because of this.
I am okay with it - after all, I am not a US citizen so I am less affected by this, and I don't believe SK is as preachy as is being made out.

Other nitpicks....so many characters, many of whom were falling into the Needful Things shop of horrors - I would forget who was who at times, and why they were there. The 'love scenes', if you could call them that, are a little clumsy in their execution. But SK has done similar in his other books...so no real disappointment there.

However, all this aside, I was eager to see how he would take us back to the 1950s. It's fair to say that I imagined a Back to the Future type world where Mr Sandman plays in the background, but King, unsurprisingly, goes further, not only dragging us there, but placing us there. This, once again, is masterful writing and I suppose I should not be surprised that King...surprises me!

11/22/63 is not a horror, though it has its moments, and just like his recent Revival, it's creepy and well scary! It's hard to classify - it is a romance to some extent, a historical piece, a sci-fi drama. Talk about putting all your favourite eggs in one very full basket.

Most of all, it is readable, despite being of a length that would have IT and The Stand looking over their well-thumbed shoulders. (maybe we cannot thumb a shoulder...oh well!)

I'm okay with the ending, without being overwhelmed. SK usually delivers cracking endings....this one, not so much.

King completionists will not feel cheated by the book, and whilst it could never be accused of having filler, King does go off on a tangent some times that makes me think he forgets he has readers outside of the USA that won't 'get' all his popcorn messages.

It's probably worth a second read, but this is one author who fires out books with alarming regularity. I'm waiting with baited breath for Finders Keepers, which is out later in 2015. Go and wow us again, Mr King....but hey...you've done alright here.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Book Review: Forfeit - An Inheritance Fraud by Carol White


Here's my review of debut author Carol White who lived in the North-West of England (hey, fans of Wilmslow and Alderley Edge!) , but was born in Malta. Now if only I could be as interesting.....

Synopisis: One minute living the Chelsea highlife, the next drinking vodka with a down-and-out, money-driven Londoner, Jess Wallace only begins to make sense of her life when a crew of ultra-slick con men embezzles her out of her inheritance.

Anxious of reporting the crime, for fear of further incrimination, and also sensing her troubles have only begun, Jess unwittingly manifests wanton chaos into her life until the moment a book on the Law of Attraction changes her entire perspective. When she learns that everything in life is profoundly connected, and that her deception, rather disturbingly, was no random act, leads her to further unearthing shocking family secrets she could neither have predicted nor even imagined. Armed with an unwavering belief that everything in life happens for a reason, Jess knows she must summon all her courage if she is ever to triumph over her adversities.

Forfeit is the first of an engaging and refreshing revenge read, incorporating elements of Hustle and Rhonda Byrne’s (The Secret).

Review: Everyone in this story (apart from a tramp who appears later on) seems to be a well-to-do person and so at first, I wasn't sure if I could relate to the characters. Fortunately, Carol White is an accomplished author - yes, it can be said (!) and writes like someone who has been writing a long time.

Forfeit: An Inheritance Fraud is a fast paced, taut thriller that mixes risky romantic interchanges with some heady falls from grace.

The way Jess, our main character rebuilds her life - literally from scratch, is believable and I think you would have to have a heart of stone not to feel for her. This is the author's power - her character elevates above certain parts of the story, lifting her situation off the page and into your mind. That's powerful writing.

Sometimes the characters seemed a little overwhelming for me, and I felt Alec was made a little one dimensional - it seems he couldn't say or do nothing right! But maybe this is how the character was meant to be.

The story is a complete one in itself and will please those who stick with it. It's an entertaining ride, full of little sub plots that engage the reader. The old lady and the cat subplot was a particular fave of mine, and the iPhone story was just fantastic.

There will be a sequel, and I think that could be even better than this tale. If you want a fast paced story with entertaining characters and a really excellent reveal at the end, get this debut novel now! 

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Book Review: Facade - Unveiling the Masquerade by J Kahele


It's starting to get a lot like Stephen King....

Okay, that's not a saying. But anyone who reads, then re-reads a favourite author will know where I'm coming from.

When I get a new SK novel, I pretty much know what I'm going to get - the standard is going to be good, very good, and with J Kahele, having read three of her other books, I can only see more greatness to come from her in the future.

Facade was a wonderful book, and was a break from the heady brutality of the Mine books, but if anything, Miss Kahele has upped her game once again, and in Facade: Unveiling the Masquerade, we have a pulsating thriller with a heart.

And I thought the bar had been well and truly reached and breached with Crazy on You!

Liam Sheldon is back, but so is Ally, Washington (I like him, he's great - want more of Wash in future stories please JK!) and Liam....rich, intelligent Liam is not a happy man.

He misses Ally so much, and wonders what he can do to repair the damage from when he last saw her. I can honestly say I didn't see THAT ending coming, so this is why Facade: Unveiling the Masquerade is such an utter delight.

Liam is a man on a mission. Well, I think we understood that from book one - he knows what he wants, and he'll go for it.

Ally is what and whom he wants.

When they finally meet, it is well done and superbly orchestrated. Most of all, it is believable because yes...Ally cares for him too. I don't think it's all about sex - though there's plenty enough here to satisfy readers who love those scenes. It's more about needing each other....not in a desperate way, and this is where I feel the book scores very high indeed. Now they are back together, I want them to stay together.

Most of all, I wanted to punch Stark, as I'm guessing Liam did, because he's a bit too much of a hugger. Back off dude...we're dudes!

Owen is relegated to the brotherly friend of Ally...obviously, in one rather painful scene, Ally demonstrates that she just doesn't see Owen in the way he would like her to see him. Fair enough....it doesn't stop him from squaring up to Liam at some point....but it's a bit like a hyena taking on a grizzly bear....utterly pointless.

The Caras dude - remember him, and the shady Shendoahs are never far away from the action, and you know....you just know they are going to wreck any happiness that Liam and Ally may have.

And this, even though this review is hidden because of spoilers, is where I must leave it, because the ending is truly terrific and the whole book is treasure...but those last few pages....wow...wow...and again...wow.

With each book I read of Miss Kahele, the standard just keeps on getting higher. Whatever will she come up with next?!

Weekend Writing Workshop #4: Characters or Story? Which should Writers attempt first?

Stories start with inspiration. Maybe you visited somewhere, or you saw a new programme that reminded you of a factual event, and you decide to put a fictional spin on it. Then, there are other stories that beg to be told simply based on your experience of life

And of course, a writer is inspired by the other books he or she reads.

In my case, I am inspired by all of the above, and many more I haven't listed. I mean, one of the latest books I am reading, 11/22/63 by Stephen King, is based on one of the key moments in US history, and is proudly stating the fact that it is SK's first time travel novel.

I think time travel is a tricky concept to make work, so maybe I'll do that when I'm better at the writing craft.


If you write the Story first, that's fine, but unless it is a novella or mini-novel, you'll find yourself running out of things to happen to character 1 2 or 3.

Unless your book is really tight, and features just a handful of characters, you end up adding a new character to flesh out a plot line that would have eroded with say characters 1 and 2.

The story must have a hook, or a MacGuffin, which, in the case of my favourite film, the martial arts wuxia movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, really needed. For fifteen minutes, nothing much of note happens. The cinematography is a work of art, and it is like director Ang Lee is trying to seduce the viewer with his visuals, and indeed, the film is a visual feast.

Pretty pictures alone do not a good film make, and just like your story, it must have that MacGuffin - the thing that is hard to describe to anyone else, but if it's in your story, and you have a McG....then you have a hook that will keep your readers interested.

Even when you have this in place, you might run out of steam after say 30,000 words, so a full novel won't happen. Maybe this is one story in a short story collection - you might excel at that kind of writing.

A sharp, witting, engaging story is what I believe people want. Even if it is a horror, make it fun. It doesn't have to be terror on each page, it can be paced so it creeps up on people. You can add funny episodes inbetween. Why should you do this? Well, people want to be entertained. If it is a constant barrage of depressing vignettes, you may lose your reader, even if it is a perfectly good story.

Shape your story, and you will keep your readers attention. 


If the story is like a cake with a nice texture, your characters are like the flavour of your book. If you don't like the taste, it's unlikely you'll be rooting for them. Of course, some authors go out of their way to create unlikeable characters - but that doesn't mean that they are not interesting. How many times have you read a book, hoping that the Bad Character who wants to hurt the hero or heroine of the tale will meet a grisly end (The Lovely Bones, anyone?). So bad characters may taste ugly with a capital UG....but you kind of have to have them to make the overall dessert more enjoyable!

I've read stories that were perfectly fine in themselves, but had forgettable or pointless characters. If you read about Adam's predicament on one page, then Sarah's on another, before Becky, Drew and Penelope are dropped in on you, you may have forgotten who Adam was - and worringly for the author - why you are supposed to care about Adam in the first place. 

So, what's the answer?

Everyone can have their view, so I'll tell you what works for me. I sketch an outline of the story. Now these notes could run into several pages, so sketching an outline is not a quick exercise, nor is it for the faint of heart. Sitting down and writing is hard enough without having an outline, which includes:-

  • A start
  • A middle
  • An ending
  • A brief description of each character (not necessarily what they look like or what they wear - what is their FUNCTION in the story)
  • If writing a series, try and complete as much as you can in one book before just ending it. Readers dislike books that appear to be padded out to fill a trilogy, so don't do it if you don't have enough story in the first place
  • Not every book has to have a prologue or an epilogue - do this on your terms no-one else's
Once you have your outline, look for plausibility and logic. Could the story happen? Even in fantasy worlds, it has to sound / read as a believable plot. Logic - do the characters do stupid things? If your character hears a noise in the night, but just has to go and investigate it, perhaps this needs a rethink. Sometimes hiding out of sight is an option. You'd do it in real life (unless you are totally kick-ass) so why wouldn't your characters? Just because they are fictional and free from actual harm, doesn't mean you should treat them that way. Logic must play a part in your characters' actions.

The 2am Lightbulb Moment

You're asleep, and you know you should be asleep at this time, but you awake to find ideas flooding your brain like some kind of orgasmic aneursym. DON'T go back to sleep before you jot these things down! Truly, I had a lot of inspiration after hitting the pillow. And the ideas are often good. Maybe it happens because we are truly relaxed....in the daytime you have to fit writing in around the cat, the girlfriend, the parent, the guy selling something of no interest at the door.  Oh dear, looking at the above, I really do need to get out of the house more!

Until next time, happy reading and writing!

Previous WWW Tips are here

Friday, 10 April 2015

GoodReads Giveaway: Innocent While She Sleeps (A Tale of Vampires, 3)

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Innocent While She Sleeps by John    Hennessy

Innocent While She Sleeps

by John Hennessy

Giveaway ends May 20, 2015.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to Win

Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl

Gone Girl was one of those books where I saw the film first, then read the book. Usually I promise myself I will read the book first, and if the film ends up shuffling itself out of the cinema before I have seen it...well....that's what DVDs are for.

However, I really like Rosamund Pike, having seen her in Die Another Day (which was terrible in my view but she was good) and whilst I thought the casting of Ben Affleck was strange, perhaps that's because I think all the films he stars in are strange.

Anyway....this is about the book, which certainly isn't a fun fest. I think much has been written about this story so what I can add to the party I don't know...but:-

It's a really well crafted thriller, and I enjoyed the story from the different character perspectives. When head hops are done well, as they are here, it's an easy story to relate to.

Yes, sometimes the names are choppy, like 'Go' for Margo....I really don't understand the recent trend to reduce everything (such as R-Pattz, and K-Stew ffs...WHAT? use their clucking names, man!)

But this is a small point.

This story kept me guessing throughout. The violent scenes are pretty dark and intense, and felt more darker on the page than was depicted on screen. The book could have been a little shorter, but it manages to hold the reader's attention.

Anyone who has been in a deep relationship where you have been cutting bits off each other, perhaps even without knowing it, will understand where this book is coming from. Implausible? yes. Fun?  oh yes!

This was the first GF book I read, and I plan to read others.


Monday, 6 April 2015

Inspirational Places for Writing: Packwood House

Packwood House, in Warwickshire is a little gem of a place, boasting some of the loveliest topiary I've ever seen. As this is early April, a lot of the garden was fenced off, which is a real shame as it is a joy to walk amongst those amazing trees.

The house itself is over three hundred years old, and although this is my second visit to the place, my last recollection was of how many tapestries they had in the place.

There's no real paranormal history to the place, as far as I know. But at over 350 years old, something must have happened there.

This place is just 20 miles from where I live. That's why I often think Birmingham and the Midlands trumps the more cooler places like London, Manchester or Liverpool. You can be in the countryside if going for 10 minutes in any direction in the city. That's got to count for something!

The topiary garden was closed off this time. It's probably too early. Last time I visited it was late August and you could walk anywhere in the place.

The house itself is lovely, quaint and understated.

I really love the rotunda style pillar on the left.

The man was creating all sorts of things, using a method from the near past. It's a shame if these arts actually die out.

One of the many tapestries inside the house.

 Overall, Packwood House is a nice place to visit. The website, hosted by The National Trust, is often up to date. I just think maybe they could offer a concession for when certain areas are closed off. I'm a member, but two of our party are not...and whilst the gardens are the star attraction, maybe the site needs to inform when certain section are closed. If I was rating this like a book, it would be an easy four stars out of five!