Category Archives: review

The Bone Curse – out on March 27th, 2018

Do you believe in Voodoo? I don’t, and yet I had no trouble suspending disbelief as I read Carrie Rubin’s The Bone Curse.

For the record, I won a pre-review copy from the author.

The story begins in Paris where Ben Oris receives a small wound from an ancient bone. Ben’s best friend, Laurette, fears that some sort of evil has entered his his body through the wound, but Vodou is no part of Ben’s world and he dismisses her fears, even as people close to him begin to sicken with a mysterious illness.

To add some context, Voodoo is Hollywood, Vodou is the belief system of Haiti. It has good and evil spirits, just as most Western religions have angels and demons. More importantly, it has practitioners who actively believe. That counts for a great deal when Ben’s ordered, logical world turns upside down. First his ex-lover gets sick, then an ex-girlfriend, and finally the woman who birthed him.

Nevertheless, it’s not until Ben becomes a father and fears for the life of his newborn son that he begins to wonder if there’s more to Vodou than he wants to believe. What follows is a fast paced race against time as he tries desperately to save those he loves.

I wasn’t sure if I liked Ben Oris at the start, but as the story progressed, I found myself empathizing with him more and more. Not just because he was a Doubting Thomas like me, but because he slowly evolved into someone capable of putting others’ lives ahead of his own. As he began to care, so did I.

I can’t say any more for fear of spoiling the whole story, but I devoured The Bone Curse in under two days and I strongly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a fast paced, medical/psychological thriller that makes you think.

The book will not be published until March 27, but you can put it on pre-order here:

Most definitely 5 stars.:)




The City of Bones by Martha Wells

When asked, I’ve always said I prefer science fiction to fantasy because of the possibility, however remote, that some part of the story might be true. Or become true. Some day. Yet if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I do love sci-fan as well.

To me, sci-fan is pragmatic fantasy in which the real and the unreal blend seamlessly to create impossible worlds that we nevertheless accept as possible. Dune, by Frank Herbert is probably the best known example of sci-fan, closely followed by Tad Williams’ Otherland. And then there’s Robin Hobb’s Farseer saga. It’s more fantasy than science, and yet the life-cycle of the dragons is no more unbelievable than the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies.

Well now I have a new sci-fan author to add to my pantheon – Martha Wells.

In The City of Bones, Wells tells the story of a young Krismen called Khat. He’s part of a species that was biologically engineered to survive in the Wastes after the land burned and the seas boiled away. But there are human survivors of the destruction as well, and the two species exist in an uneasy alliance against the deadly creatures of the Wastes.

Khat lives in Charisat, a human city, making a precarious living as a relic trader. Relic traders are like a combination of archeologist/palentologist/anthropologist, with a bit of a conman/thief added in, and relics are fragments from the lost world of the Ancients.

That would have been more than enough to grab my attention, but Wells weaves in history, politics, conspiracy, intrigue and a bit of classic who-dunnit to make the story an absolute page-turner. I loved it.

If you like sci-fan too then I strongly recommend The City of Bones.

The Kindle version is $2.25 on Amazon and there’s a paperback as well. 6/5. 🙂




The best historical who-dunnit…EVER!

Okay, I know the title of this post is a little over the top, but January must be the month for brilliant books. Seriously, I’ve just finished ‘A Star in the Sky’ and I’m in awe of the author’s talent. Under the ‘Look Inside’ you’ll find the review I just left for ‘A Star in the Sky’ on Amazon. 5/5 of course.

Not only does the author, Zichao Deng, [d.z.c. for short] make the world of the ancient Mayans come alive in all its barbaric splendour, he’s also created a murder mystery which could only have occurred in that time!

This is no ordinary murder disguised with a thin vineer of history. Every clue, every backward step, every twist and turn of the plot is woven out of the facts of that world:

  • The man who died was poisoned,
  • The poison was the same poison as used on darts, but he was not shot,
  • In fact, there did not appear to be any way for him to have been poisoned at all,
  • The politics of the situation could have seen the death explained away as ‘magic’, but
  • The female doctor who is charged with investigating the death refuses to allow either politics or superstition to get in the way of the facts, or logic.

And, like the very best who-dunnits, the clues are there all along, but the great reveal doesn’t happen until the very end. In fact, there are two reveals and the second is even more astonishing than the first.

‘A Star in the Sky’ kept me reading when I should have been doing other things, and that was despite not dumbing down the names and Mayan words sprinkled gently throughout the story.

I love alien sounding names, so I had no trouble with the female doctor being called ‘Lady Tz’unun’. I likewise had no trouble with the name of the Queen – Sak K’uk – at least, not inside my own head. As a reader, all I wanted to do was identify the character, so who cares whether my pronunciation was accurate or not? And those names were part of the reason I knew I was not in Kansas any more.

Another thing I loved about ‘A Star in the Sky’ was the richness of the characters. Lady Tz’unun may be the Sherlock Holmes of the story, but her servant Three Rabbits, plus the Queen’s councillor, the Ti’sakhuun are all part of an ensemble cast that just work, individually and as group. The story is finished but I still want to know more about them, and I definitely want to know more about their slice of history.

I sincerely hope that Zichao Deng has more murder mysteries for Lady Tz’unun and her team to solve. Simply brilliant.

My review won’t go live on Amazon for a few more hours, so I’ll just leave you with a concept drawing done by the author himself:


You’re welcome 😀



The Communion of Saints – a review

I haven’t done a review in a long time, but I finished The Communion of Saints last night, and I simply had to review it.

But first a little background. Communion is the third novel in the John Ray series that began with Hope Road and continued with Father and Son. My reviews of Hope Road and Father and Son are here and here. It’s been a long time between drinks, but the wait was worth it. Here is the review I just posted on Amazon:

Like ‘Hope Road’ and ‘Father and Son’,  the first two John Ray thrillers, The Communion of Saints is that rare beast: a character driven genre novel. And like its predecessors, Communion is brilliant.

The Communion of Saints can be read as a standalone novel because the author weaves enough prior knowledge into the story to make the character and motivation of the protagonist  realistic and satisfying. Nevertheless,  I highly recommend that you read the earlier novels first.

Why? Because all three novels are character driven thrillers, and it’s the character of John Ray, the protagonist, that sucks you in and keeps you turning the pages.

John Ray is the last surviving member of a crime family. He’s the white sheep, the one that broke away and tried to live a straight life. But it’s hard to remain divorced from your past when you see your brother shot to death in front of your eyes. It’s even harder to stay detached when the Law tries to lay every nasty crime at your door.

After the gruesome death of his father, the old crime boss, John Ray tries to start afresh. He gives his business away and takes a job as a lowly lecturer’s assistant, but he’s shrivelling up inside.

Enter Detective Chief Superintendent Shirley Kirk. She needs John’s help. Or, to be more exact, she needs the help of his historical links to the underworld because someone is making allegations of child abuse against an institution to which they both have ties.

In the process of unravelling truth from lies, John discovers yet more about his own past, none of it good. He also becomes a suspect in two murders, simply because of who he is.

The plot is tight, with no ‘what the…?’ moments, and the prose is elegant, painting a vivid picture of the characters and their world without ever being flowery or pretentious. But the true joy of Communion is in the characters. Not even the walk on/walk off characters are two dimensional. All of them possess a vitality that makes them feel real, no matter how minor.

As for John Ray and Shirley Kirk, they’re real people to me.  I care about them. I’d like to meet them, talk to them, spend time with them. More importantly, they are people I will not forget.

I cannot think of greater praise for an author’s work.

Something I didn’t write in the review was that I wondered whether I’d still have a wee bit of a crush on the charming rogue, John Ray. The answer is yes. He’s still a bad boy with heart, and we know how women like them. 😀




#Cloud storage &…….or a positive tech post for a change!

After coping with the security issues of Windows 10, it was such a pleasant surprise to find an ‘app’ that is unabashedly security conscious! And yes,, I’m talking about you. But first, a quick word about the problems that solves: storage, backup and version control.

Normally, when you create a file on your computer, you save it to your computer – i.e. onto the harddrive inside the physical ‘box’. If you’re super organised, you may also save that file to an external harddrive or USB device, as a form of ongoing ‘backup’. Belt-and-braces type people might save that data to a DVD as well, giving them multiple backups in case of disaster.

But all of these various types of storage have one, critical downside – a change made in one copy of the data will NOT be reflected in the other copies. If you have 3 copies of a particular file, you will have to manually update each copy.

There is also another issue that can be a nightmare – version control. Let me give you an example. Every time I work on my WiP [work in progress], I save it to my desktop, and then I copy it to my USB device. The latest version from the desktop always over-writes the version on the USB. Obviously, this is so I always have at least one copy of my work no matter what happens [e.g. the house burns down in a bushfire or some other catastrophe].

But what if I have 2 computers and want to add to my WiP on both?

That is the problem I’ve been struggling with for the last few days: there’s no point having the laptop if I don’t use it for my work, but if I do use it while I’m away from home, how do I keep the versions straight?

My fear is that if I continue with the USB device, sooner or later I am going to get the latest version of the WiP wrong. In a moment of madness or tiredness or distraction, I’ll over-write the wrong copy and then I’ll be up the creek without a paddle. Enter cloud storage.

Like the USB drive or DVD etc., cloud storage saves your files outside your pc, usually in a server on the other side of the world. The file is ‘up-loaded’ to the cloud via your internet connection, and once it’s there, you can access it from any computer device you choose. You can also share that file with others if you wish.

For me, cloud storage means I can work on my WiP at home and have it synced to my laptop so if I go out, I can continue working on the WiP where I left off.

Lovely concept, right?

Unfortunately, the grand-daddy of cloud storage – Dropbox – showed that cloud storage can be hacked, and most reviews I’ve read say their security has not improved much if at all since then. Now, I’m not working on anything ‘naughty’ that I need to hide from anyone, but privacy is very important to me, and I would die if I lost four years worth of work through someone else’s ‘oopsie’. So no Dropbox.:(

I was trawling through the umpteenth review/comparison of cloud storage offerings – there are heaps of them! – when I came across And guess what! The thing that sets apart from the rest is its security. 🙂 Plus it’s Canadian, so not subject to some of the, um, government sponsored hacking found over the border.

And now for the acid test – does work?

Yes, yes, it does. 🙂

The two screenshots below show my desktop and the laptop. They’ve been synced via and the test files I used have shown up on both computers with only a very short delay – approx. 20 seconds or thereabouts.

sync com screenshots

So now I know the system works, and thankfully, getting it to work is really simple too.

How to use

  1. First, register for the free, 5 GB plan:
  2. Then download the installer to the first pc. Install Sync to the first pc using the account name you setup in step 1. Part of the setup process is the creation of a folder called ‘Sync’.
  3. Now, download and install the Sync installer to the second pc. Make sure you have a ‘Sync’ folder on the second pc as well.
  4. Drag and drop [or copy/paste] a file into the ‘Sync’ folder on the first pc.
  5. Wait 20? seconds and you will see that the file now appears in the ‘Sync’ folder of the second pc as well.

The Sync presence on your pc is minimal. If you need to do something with the actual app., you can find it inside ‘Show hidden icons’ on your taskbar:

sync taskbar icon

All other work is done on the website itself. Once I’ve worked out how to share files with friends, I’ll detail that in a separate post. For now, I’m really happy with my new way of working.

Last question: was finding and installing Sync as easy or convenient as using the default OneDrive cloud storage app offered by Windows 10?

Simple answer: no. Installing and learning how to use Sync didn’t take me long, but it still required some time and effort on my part, the payoff, however, is more than worth it:

  • I have an excellent cloud storage app.
  • It has excellent security features, and
  • I am in control, not Micro$oft
  • oh…and Sync is free [unless I want heaps more storage]

By contrast, I pay for the ‘convenience’ of Windows 10 by handing Micro$oft my privacy on a plate. No contest.




Sci-fi now with Holo Lens and Actiongram

In a previous post I talked about holograms as a thing of the near future. I was wrong, they’re here now. Watch the video below to see how Microsoft’s Holo Lens is being teamed with Actiongram to create sci-fi right now:

If that video clip is anything to go by, the interface is still in its infancy, but given the speed with which things like 3D printers have become mainstream, I expect real life holograms to become an everyday reality within five years…and that may be a conservative estimate.

One thing I am sure of is that hologram technology will change how we work, rest and play. I wonder how much money I have in my piggy bank….



#amwriting – using StoryBox 2.0

I’ve been using StoryBox novel writing software for years now so it’s easy to forget what a difference it makes to my writing. You see, I’m a pantster at heart. I don’t outline, I don’t storyboard, I don’t use ‘cards’ and I don’t know how my stories will end.

That last point guarantees that my stories will not be predictable. Unfortunately, it also guarantees that they are always in danger of turning into a sprawling, self-indulgent mess. I know, because I used to use Word [before I found StoryBox] and I remember how hard it was to see the forest for the trees – i.e. to get an overview of the whole story. I also remember how hard it was to restructure that story in order to make it flow properly.

Now when I say ‘structure’, I don’t mean a neat, pre-ordained three act roadmap of the story. I mean placing scenes where they are meant to go.

“Well, duh. Isn’t that what writers are supposed to do?”

“Yes, but I’m a pantster, remember?”

The truth is, I ‘see’ scenes in vivid technicolour and write them down. If I’m having a good day, the scene will fit perfectly into the progression of the story. Other days, not so. That’s because my sub-conscious doesn’t work in a neat, linear fashion. The process is more like putting together a spherical, 3D jigsaw puzzle. My sub-conscious gets an idea and my fingers translate that idea into something more or less relevant to the part of the story I’m currently working on. It’s not until later, often much later, that I realise scene A is in the wrong spot and that it would go much better in position 123. Something like this:

globe wireframe

And this is where StoryBox comes in. It allows pantsters like me to become hybrid ‘pantliners’, and all without trying to turn my brain into something it’s not.

For me, StoryBox does two things extremely well:

  1. it allows me restructure chapters and scenes as easily as moving physical cards around on a storyboard, and
  2. it allows me to create quick and dirty outlines on the navigation tree as I go [sort of like creating a roadmap rather than following one].

This is the navigation tree. In the beginning you start with just one chapter and one scene. As the story progresses you add more chapters and scenes on the fly until you get something like this:

storybox useful 2At the very top of the navigation tree is the name of the story itself. Below that are the chapters and inside the chapters are the scenes.

I can leave the chapter headings as just ‘chapter x’ [created automatically by the software], or I can add my own road signs to show what’s in each chapter/scene.

Over time, these road signs add up to that quick and dirty outline I was talking about.

I’m too lazy to add a synopsis to each chapter/scene, but that is also easily done on the fly.

So now I can look at my ‘outline’ to get a quick overview of the story. This allows me to see whether it’s flowing correctly. It also allows me to rethink what comes where, both in terms of events and in terms of character motivation.

In fact, this post was motivated by the fact that I have just had to do quite a substantial restructuring of the second half of Innerscape. If I had still been using Word…-shudder-

As wordprocessors go, Word is probably as good as you’re going to get, but it simply doesn’t have the tools a writer needs. Yes, you can move great chunks of text around. You can even set up a form of navigation to help you, but it’s still hard work. First you have to find the exact chunk you need to move. Then you have to select it, cut it, scroll through hundreds of pages of story, find the new spot and paste. If you mess up anywhere during that process you can do terrible things to your story.

Now look at how StoryBox does it:

storybox useful 1In this screenshot I have selected the whole story by clicking on ‘INNERSCAPE 5 TO 8’ [at the top of the navigation tree]. Then I click on the storyboarding function which displays every chapter [and part] as a digital ‘card’. To move a ‘card’, I simply drag & drop it to its new location. Every scene associated with that chapter is moved right along with the chapter.

On a smaller scale, I can do exactly the same thing with scenes. To move a scene around inside a chapter, simply select the chapter, select the storyboarding function and move the relevant ‘card’ for that scene to a new position.

If I want to move a scene from chapter A to chapter B, I click on the scene in the navigation tree and drag and drop from there.

I truly do not think I could have written the Innerscape beast without StoryBox to organize it for me. The story has become so big, with so many threads woven through it, that I simply could not have kept it all in my head.

If a project you’re working on is turning into a behemoth and you’ve reached the limits of Word functionality, I really would recommend trying one of the dedicated writing packages. I’m very happy with StoryBox, but I’ve heard that Scrivener is very similar, and there are other options out there as well. Stop struggling and start optimizing your time and energy!



p.s. If you want to read my original review of StoryBox version 1, you can find it here. Version 2 has the same core functionality but is sleeker.

p.p.s. I just realised that using StoryBox has changed the way I write. Now I think totally in ‘scenes’ and that has resulted in a dramatic drop in the amount of waffle I produce. 😀



‘Ready Player One’ a #5star review

Before I begin, a warning to all non-gamers – tune out now.

ready player oneOkay, for those of you left, let me begin by saying that ‘Ready Player One’, by Ernest Cline, is the first non-Indie novel I have read in a very long time. I broke my unwritten rule about supporting only Indies because I’d heard the story was brilliant. It is. It’s a tour de force of imagination, but not for everyone.

Why? Because it’s all about gaming. MUDs, consoles, MMORPGs, VR, you name it. There’s even an homage to all things 80’s thrown in to season the mix. But if all those acronyms mean nothing to you, then neither will the plot because gaming provides the structure and mindset that makes the plot compelling.

And it is a compelling story. Set in the 2040s, ‘Ready Player One’ paints a dystopian picture of a world in which we left things too late. Climate Change is no longer a theory to be disputed, it is a reality to be endured, and for the majority of America’s population, that means living in abject poverty.

With the real world so grim, most people escape to the virtual reality of the OASIS, which is like our internet on steroids. VR immersion rigs – goggles, haptic gloves and suits – and cheap OASIS access mean that even the very poor can escape reality, at least to some extent.

But as with all good stories, there is a villain of the piece, and in the case of ‘Ready Player One’, that villain is a corporation known as IOI.IOI want to control OASIS because by doing so they would gain control of vast swathes of the world’s population.

Standing against this corporate threat are a bunch of teenaged geeks – Parzival, Aech, Art3mis, Daito and Shoto – called gunters. The action, however, unfolds on both the VR and real world planes, blurring the lines of both.

Is the plot innovative and new? Um, yes and no. At its core, the story is about the fight between good and evil, which is as old as human time itself. But how it’s done is why the story is so compelling. Being able to empathize with all of the main characters also helps.

The main character is an avatar called Parzival. The young man behind Parzival is Wade, an orphan who lives with his aunt and her abusive boyfriends in a ‘stack’. Stacks are trailer parks that have been built upwards rather than outwards [to save space] and they provide shelter to the very poor.

Wade can access the OASIS because at the beginning of the story, he is a school-age boy and all school-age children are provided basic access for free – so they can attend virtual schools on a virtual planet called LUDUS.

As always, of course, money talks, even in a virtual reality, so we become invested in Wade’s life because he is the stereotypical geek. The big difference between him, and say someone like me, is that Wade/Parzival is one of the smartest geeks around. Luckily, his insecurities make us love him even as we wish we were more like him. -cough-

And then there is the gentle love story I mentioned. It’s there, and it’s an integral part of the story, but it is not the integral part of the story, the pivot around which all else revolves. If you need a comparison, think Chani and Paul Muad’ib from the Dune saga.

For me, the love story in ‘Ready Player One’ struck just the right balance because it provided a change of pace when needed, as well as motivation for parts of Wade’s character development. All without ever overshadowing the science fiction element. Then again, I may be a bit old-fashioned when it comes to science fiction and romance.

And finally a word about the writing. Here too, the word that springs to mind is balance. At its core, science fiction [like its cousin Fantasy] is all about world building, so info. dumps are almost inevitable. The trick, then, is to balance the info. dumps with the action so the reader wants to keep reading.

As you can imagine, balancing two such conflicting elements, whilst also juggling character development, social commentary and that hint of romance, is one heck of a job. Ernest Cline, the author of ‘Ready Player One’ manages to keep all his balls [pun intended] in the air…most of the time.

I think I only really became aware of the info. dumps once or twice during the entire story, and even then, I was interested enough in the world to feel no resentment.

This was a story I enjoyed from start to finish, and it saddens me to think that such quintessential science fiction has been largely ignored by the establishment. It did win the Prometheus Award in 2012, but for my money, it should have won the Hugo and Nebula awards as well. It didn’t, but perhaps, as with The Martian, Ready Player One will gain the recognition it deserves when/if Steven Spielberg turns it into a movie.

In the meantime, why not read the book? Honestly, if you have ever played a video game, of any sort, then this novel is a must read.




Two #5star #reviews for two very different novels

I read all the time, but sometimes the quality of my reading material goes through a bit of a slump. Then, as if to make up for it, fate sends me two wonderful books in a row. The two wonderful books I’ll be talking about today are Pride’s Children: Purgatory, by Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt, and The Earthquake Doll, by Candace Williams. And because I’ve already reviewed both on Amazon, I’ve included those reviews in full.

prides children purgatory

Click the picture to see the book on Amazon

Pride’s Children: Purgatory, by Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

The writing in Pride’s Children, Purgatory is beautiful – literary without being at all pretentious – but if you’re anything like me, it’s the characters you will love.

Sexy, good-looking Irish actor Andrew O’Connell is the perfect foil for shy, retiring author Karenna Ashe, but this is no predictable romance. It is, however, a lovestory about grown ups who have to keep on growing in order to deal with the pain of loving someone they shouldn’t. It’s also a novel about choices. And finally it’s a novel about taking risks when your body suffers from a chronic illness. In other words, this is a novel about being human.

I loved every word and my only complaint is that there isn’t any more…yet. Very highly recommended.’


Click the picture to see the book on Amazon

Click the picture to see the book on Amazon

The Earthquake Doll, by Candace Williams

I’ve loved all things Japanese for a very long time, but my genre of choice is sci-fi so I only just stumbled onto this little gem. What is so good about it? Pretty much everything:
-The characters are very likable, especially the main character, Miyoko who is a young Japanese girl growing up in postwar Japan.
– All the characters have a ‘voice’ – meaning each one is quite distinct and you know exactly who’s speaking or doing what at all times.
– The setting feels very genuine; definitely not the same old same old.
– Because the plot grows out of a culture that is very different to anything found in the West, even the simple plot of star-crossed lovers feels fresh and new,
– And the storytelling is clever. By letting us see through Miyoko’s eyes, the author has worked a gentle sort of magic which allows us to see our own culture through fresh eyes,
– And finally, the writing is clean and simple, speaking to the heart much like the Good Wife by Pearl S Buck.
I really can’t recommend this book enough. Simply lovely.

In many ways, these two novels could not be more different if they tried, both in style and content, and yet…they both have that touch of magic that lifts them out of the mundane into the extraordinary. These will be books you remember. That’s a promise. 🙂



#hashtags for Indies

The link below leads to the Indies Unlimited website and an article I wrote about how we [authors] can use hashtags to help readers find our books…if our stories match what those readers are looking for. It’s a bottom-up system rather than a top-down system applied by some retailer.

Please join the discussion over at IU!

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