Category Archives: Reviews

Some of the novels I have loved in October 2022

I believe in writing reviews, but like most people, unless I write one the moment I finish reading, I tend to forget. As a result, I do catch-up reviews. These are some of the ones I’ve reviewed on amazon.com recently.

The Corfu Trilogy, by Gerald Durrell. Fell in love with the TV series, loved the books.

‘This must be one of the few times when a visual representation of a work actually complements that work of prose. Both endearing and beautiful.’

Amazon link

p.s. There are over 4,000 reviews of this trilogy on amazon.com so mine was more of an ‘I loved it too!’ than an actual review.

For those who’ve never heard of the Durrells of Corfu TV series, or the books on which they’re based, the author, Gerald Durrell was the brother of Lawrence Durrell of the Alexandria Quartet fame.

All four of the Durrell siblings lived on the island of Corfu in the years leading up to WWII. The Corfu trilogy was written by the youngest Durrell, Gerald, and details the glorious, golden years he spent growing up there. The books are funny and snarky and make you want to go back in time and share that life with them.

If you get the chance, read the books and watch the TV series. You won’t be disappointed. Promise.

Val Hall: the even years, by Alma Alexander. Shorts with Heart

‘I’m not usually a fan of short stories because they end just as I’m getting into them but… Val Hall is like snippets of the same, glorious song. Each story showcases a different resident with a different 3rd class superpower, but the gentle caring of Eddie the orderly weaves all the disparate stories into one narrative. And I literally fell in love with each superhero. On to book two. :)’

p.s. As with the Corfu trilogy, my review is kind of superfluous, but I thought I’d explain that the premise of the stories is that there are three tiers of superpowers.

The top tier is godlike, the second is like Superman,

while the third is made up of almost ordinary humans who have one special power that they can use in special circumstances. That’s why they’re only third class. Each story talks about one of these third class powers and the person who wields it.

Amazon link

Cage of Souls, by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Papillion at the end of the world.

‘The time is some unimaginable point in the future when our sun is starting to die. The place is the Island, a prison for those that Shadrapar, the last city on Earth, rejects. The story is told in the first person by Stefan Advani, an intellectual sentenced to the Island for…helping to write a book that the powers did not like.
I’m not a fan of first person POV because what we learn of the character is generally unappealing. It’s like seeing someone naked with all their warts and saggy flesh exposed. That said, however, I can’t stop thinking about the story and the world it portrays.
It’s memorable.

I’m a voracious reader but much of what I read disappears soon after I finished reading. It’s not memorable. The Cage of Souls is different. It’s tunneled into my imagination and won’t let go.
To me, that is the defining characteristic of a great story.’

Amazon link

I have a stack more reviews to publish so I’ll try to do a post a week. In the meantime, have a great weekend. 🙂

cheers,
Meeks


What’s the good of ideals if you don’t live them?

To me, being a good person requires that you live by your ideals. But what if your ideals require that you heal the dead, even though everyone else thinks necromancy is evil?

That conflict between personal integrity and societal mores is one of the central themes of the Necromancer’s Daughter, the new book by my good friend D.Wallace Peach:

“A healer and dabbler in the dark arts of life and death, Barus is as gnarled as an ancient tree. Forgotten in the chaos of the dying queen’s chamber, he spirits away her stillborn infant, and in a hovel at the meadow’s edge, he breathes life into the wisp of a child. He names her Aster for the lea’s white flowers. Raised as his daughter, she learns to heal death.”

To me, the key phrase is ‘heal death’. Not ‘raise an army of zombies’ or ‘use necromancy to gain personal power’ but to heal. And that raises the question of motivation, another key theme in the story. This is the review I left on Amazon:

‘Aster is born dead and is brought to life by Barus, a necromancer. Not exactly what you would call normal people, and yet…two more loving people would be hard to find. And /that/ begs all sorts of questions about good and evil, love and hate, integrity and lies.
How can giving life be evil when taking it is not?
How can kindness be evil when cruelty is not?
How can living according to one’s beliefs be evil when deception is not?
These are vital questions, and give The Necromancer’s Daughter a depth that I absolutely loved. Brilliant story masterfully told.
Very highly recommended.

Both Barus and Aster are forced to flee in separate directions as a powerful, angry man uses his position to hunt them down. The reason? Revenge. He wanted his young son raised from the dead, but the child’s injuries were too severe. Had he been brought back to life, he would not have been able to stay alive. Not all deaths can be healed.

Many years later, that man’s younger son, Joreh, is caught in a conflict between Aster’s goodness and the repugnance he was taught to feel for necromancy, and necromancers. Another choice, but this time between what Joreh sees with his own eyes and what he has been taught to believe.

To get an insight into the author’s own motivation, I asked Diana whether these themes evolved during the writing of the book or were there right from the start. This is what she said:

Thanks so much, Andrea, for the beautiful review and the question. I’d say you hit the themes of the book on the head. What more can an author hope for?

I’m an outliner, so the theme of a book usually presents itself before I start writing. It bubbles up as I shape my characters and start plotting the sequence of the action.

I often find my inspiration in real life. We live in an opinionated world, where assumptions about whole groups of people are salted with cruel and dangerous righteousness. It’s easy to get sucked into battlelines, and I’m no saint, that’s for sure. In The Necromancer’s Daughter, I wanted to challenge those kinds of harmful preconceptions.

To that end, I created a character who, in common fantasy fiction, is considered pure evil, someone who is feared and ungodly, physically hideous and possessive of dark power. I wanted to challenge readers to discover the exact opposite of the typical expectation. Barus and Aster are truly good human beings who, by healing death, are risking their lives to save others.

At the same time, I wanted to create “good guys” who, through their narrow and rigid vision of the world, end up committing and justifying acts of evil. In other words, I tried to flip all assumptions on their heads!

In a way, young Joreh Graeger is the most important character in the book. He’s the one who questions the truth of his biases. He gets to know Aster as an individual, and goes through the tough process of changing his mind when his assumptions no longer apply. He learns that what is good and evil isn’t defined by power or doctrine or wealth or what he was taught as a child, but by love, kind intentions, and a desire to do no harm.

Thanks again for having me over to your blog today. You’re the best!

Ah, Diana, this sentence resonates so much! ‘He [Joreh] learns that what is good and evil isn’t defined by power or doctrine or wealth or what he was taught as a child, but by love, kind intentions, and a desire to do no harm.’ In this age of polarized battle lines, we could all do with some Asters in our lives.

I honestly can’t recommend The Necromancer’s Daughter more. If you haven’t started reading this story already, please go to one of the following sites and download your copy today. You’ll thank me. And you’re welcome. 😀

Amazon US, UK, CA, AU, IN

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Apple

And just in case you’ve never read any of Diana’s books before, here’s a little bit about her:

A long-time reader, best-selling author D. Wallace Peach started writing later in life when years of working in business surrendered to a full-time indulgence in the imaginative world of books. She was instantly hooked.

In addition to fantasy books, Peach’s publishing career includes participation in various anthologies featuring short stories, flash fiction, and poetry. She’s an avid supporter of the arts in her local community, organizing and publishing annual anthologies of Oregon prose, poetry, and photography. Peach lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two owls, a horde of bats, and the occasional family of coyotes.

One of the things I love most about the internet and blogging is the ability to make friends with people on the other side of the world. Diana is one such friend. Her blog has attracted a community of writers and readers, many of whom I also call friend. I hope to see you there too. 🙂

Amazon Author’s Page: https://www.amazon.com/D.-Wallace-Peach/e/B00CLKLXP8

Website/Blog: http://mythsofthemirror.com

Website/Books: http://dwallacepeachbooks.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Dwallacepeach

I’ll finish this post with the beautiful video trailer Diana created for the book:

cheers,
Meeks


‘Hope’ – by Terry Tyler

I’m a voracious reader so there are times when the pickings are lean. And then there are times when I discover one stunning, brilliant book after the other. This is one of those times and the first book I want to talk about is ‘Hope’.

This is the review I just left on amazon.com:

‘Most of us just want to live our lives, right? The world can be harsh but so long as we can kick back and relax with friends, get paid enough to put a roof over our heads and feel safe, we’ll be okay. Right?

That’s how ‘Hope’ begins. Three ordinary people – Lita, Kendall and Nick -sharing a flat and pretty much living the life most of us would recognize today. All three have jobs, but none of the jobs pay enough for them to live alone. Kendall works for Zest, a subsidiary of one of the largest corporations in the world. Lita and Nick are online influencers who earn enough from advertising to pay their way.
And then Kendall loses her job because she’s a size 16 and being too plump is not a good look for a company that sells health food.

The downward spiral that begins with Kendal quickly accelerates until suddenly the three flatmates can no longer afford the rent. Losing their little home is traumatic, but worse is to come – couch surfing followed by homeless shelters followed by a night in a church. And suddenly, the only option left to move to one of the Hope Villages set up by the state, and run by the same corporation that seems to run everything else in the UK.

I’ll be honest, at about this point, my sense of impending doom was so visceral I almost put the Kindle down. This is horror of a very plausible kind as the author weaves the story in such a realistic way that we can all see ourselves, or someone we know, in the plight of the characters. I’m ‘safe’, but someone I went to school with is now living in a boarding house, an older woman on her own with few resources – a statistic.

I can’t tell you what happens to Lita, Kendall and Nick, but I will say that there is some real hope as they begin to fight back against the system.

Would I recommend ‘Hope’ to other readers? You bet. With bells on. Terry Tyler’s ‘Hope’ may be one of the scariest books I’ve ever read, but it’s also one of the BEST books I’ve ever read. It challenges my mind and my emotions, stripping away the comfortable complacency that cocoons me from the real world. I may just want to live my life, but sometimes that life has to be earned. Sometimes we have to say ‘no’ to a system that treats people like animals that can be…culled.

Our world has not yet devolved into the nightmare of Terry Tyler’s Hope, but it’s heading in that direction. That is what’s so scary. ‘Hope’ is a story that should be read by every person who wants to keep kicking back with friends and feeling safe.’

‘Hope’ costs a ridiculous 70c. It was the best 70c I’ve ever spent. My thanks to D.Wallace Peach for introducing me to this fabulous story.

cheers,
Meeks


The Race Against Time

I’ve talked about beta readers before, and how vital they are for Indie writers. Well, Chris James, author of The Race Against Time, has been one of mine for a very long time. And I’ve been one of his since Repulse, the novel that started his climb to fame.

I am now very proud to announce that the latest novel in the story arc, The Race Against Time, is not only published, it’s hit the top of the best seller lists in the UK:

You can read Chris’ post about The Race here, and garden lovers can also check out some truly gorgeous photos of tulips (grown by Mrs James). 🙂

As someone who loves good science fiction, I can tell you that it was hard to focus on the technicalities of The Race because I kept wanting to read what happened next. That’s one of the pitfalls of beta reading when you grow to love the characters, which I do.

The Repulse Chronicles encompass one of the most innovative, immersive and, dare I say it, topical story arcs in modern science fiction. Chris James lives in Poland with his wife and family, and the story is about the invasion of Europe in the future. I say no more.

Congratulations to Chris for a job very well done. 😀

Meeks


The Princess of Shadow – a review

Quite by accident, I’ve discovered a new favourite author – Colin Alexander. The Princess of Shadow is the second book of his that I’ve read, and this one really hit the spot. Most definitely 5 stars. 🙂

My Amazon review won’t hit for a while, but this is what I wrote:

I prefer scifi to fantasy but ‘The Princess of Shadows’ left me gobsmacked at the depth and richness of the story. It literally has everything – medieval style politics and warfare, subtle social commentary, a nod to Queen Elizabeth the 1st, the so-called Virgin Queen, a nuanced perspective on human nature, characters that make you want to see what they do next, a fabulous plot and, last but not least, an intriguing world that’s like nothing I’ve come across before.

I suspect there’s a strong scifi element in the creation myths of this world that is yet to be revealed, and I can hardly wait to discover what it is.

In a nutshell, The Princess of Shadows has that something ‘more’ that I look for in every work of fiction. Much of the time, I’m disappointed. This time, I was gifted with much, much more than I expected.

Very highly recommended.

It’s New Year’s Eve morning here so I feel justified in wishing you all a very Happy New Year. 20 and 21 were pure shyte, but 22 may usher in a new beginning for us all.

cheers
Meeks


Salt – a review

Apologies for the cryptic title but the fantasy novel I just reviewed is called just that – salt. Much like Dune and Wool, Salt [the mineral] is the backbone of its world:

Salt (The Barbarians Book 1) by [E.J. Lowell, Nathan Lowell]

I gave Salt 5/5 stars, and this is the review I left for it on Amazon.com:

I stumbled onto Salt and fell in love.

The story alternates between two, very different protagonists – Tanan, the second son of the King, and Sukhetai, the first son of the Warchief of a powerful nomadic tribe.

Tanan is thoughtful and smart. Sukhetai is impulsive and quick to anger. They could not be any more different, yet right from the start, their destinies slowly intertwine, helped along by a couple of old women who speak to the grass.

One of the most interesting fantasy elements in the story is the idea of the Change, and that some women who have gone through the Change come into an earth-based kind of power. This power allows them to ‘ride the wind’ on the wings of their special bird-familiars, or to get a feel for things far away by listening to the grass. This special power gives women a stronger position in society than is normally the case in many fantasy settings.

Another thing that really impressed me was the authors’ courage in giving the characters names that are hard to pronounce. Some roll off the tongue while others make you stumble, yet the very otherness reinforces the fact that ‘we’re not in Kanvas any more’. I love that.

On a technical level the story is well-written and well edited. Quite frankly, it was a joy to read. Very highly recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/Salt-Barbarians-Book-J-Lowell-ebook/dp/B09C6PZS3J/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=Salt&qid=1638758411&s=digital-text&sr=1-3

I’d never heard of the authors; I just liked the look of the cover and the blurb so I thought I’d take a chance. Sometimes you really do get lucky. 🙂

Have a great day everyone and stay well.
Meeks


A Bear called Frank

No, this is not a post about a personable grizzly – we don’t have any in Australia. The closest we get is the legendary ‘Drop Bear’.

<<cue hysterical laughter>>

<<cough>>

No, this post is about my good friend Frank Prem and the Beechworth Bakery Bears he has come to know and love. Frank is an Aussie poet-storyteller who brought me to tears with his stories of the Black Saturday bushfires that killed so many in our state. This time, however, Frank has created a beautiful book about teddy bears:

These gastronomic Bears greet customers in the Beechworth Bakery, Victoria, Australia

I love teddy bears and have a whole shelf full keeping me company in my office, so I fell in love with the Bakery Bears at first sight!

In the latest Bear book – Waiting for Frank Bear – Frank gives voice to these cuddly Bears and shows us their Bears-eye-view of the world, both the good and the bad. Coming out of the pandemic, we need books like these, books that bring this topsy turvy time into perspective and help us rediscover what it means to be human.

A peek inside the hardcover book

‘Waiting for Frank Bear’ will be released on November 14, 2021. That’ll be tomorrow for those of us in Australia, the day after for the rest of you? You can pre-order now though. 🙂

Amazon links for Waiting for Frank Bear :

In Australia: https://www.amazon.com.au/Waiting-Frank-Bear-heard-Beechworth-Bakery-ebook/dp/B09KG4Q8K6/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1636774991&sr=8-1

In the US: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09KG4Q8K6/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_tkin_p1_i0

If you’d like to know more about Frank, you can find him on his blog: https://frankprem.com/

Or on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18679262.Frank_Prem

Or on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvfW2WowqY1euO-Cj76LDKg

You know that ‘Resistance is futile’ [Doctor Who, 1963] so do it! lol And to all the Star Trek fans out there – I watched every episode of Doctor Who as a kid and that phrase was most definitely in use long before the Borg apparently used it in Star Trek. I also watched every episode of the original Star Trek, which is why I’ve never been able to watch the new generation re-make.

Live long and Prosper!

cheers,
Meeks


THREE new reviews!

The second and third books of a trilogy rarely get as many reviews as the first, partly because it’s really hard to talk about those books without mentioning events from the first book, and spoilers are a no-no. That is why reviews for those unloved children fill us authors with so much joy.

My thanks to L.M. Verna for reviewing all three books of my Innerscape trilogy. The first is for Miira :

First in a trilogy of books, this focuses primarily on Miira’s transition from being a terminally ill middle-aged cancer patient to a young avatar exploring her new life in a virtual reality resort for the wealthy called Innerscape. Acflory brings this process to life with vivid descriptions that engage all one’s senses. Parts of Miira’s transition were described in such a way that I found myself cringe. I like books that get me so involved that the real world dissolves; this series of books did that for me.

The trilogy is told primarily from Miira’s POV, but also includes POVs from other characters to round out the narrative. In this book, we also meet Kenneth Wu and Jamie Watson who figure prominently in the trilogy. Although the story is told from multiple points of view, the author manages to transition between them without jarring the reader. I especially enjoyed the character of Miira and was intrigued by what she had to endure to start a new life.

The author explored and described the physical and emotional aspects of Miira’s transformation, as well as a bit of the politics of Innerscape and the larger society where it exists. Thus, she managed to create a vivid, complex, and more believable world.

I also enjoyed the gaming worlds that are woven artfully into the fabric of the trilogy, and which contain events and characters that advance the overall story.

Once I finished the first book, I was intrigued enough to finish the trilogy.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B076GYZBKQ?notRedirectToSDP=1&ref_=dbs_mng_calw_0&storeType=ebooks

Followed by the Godsend:

The second book in Acflory’s Innerscape trilogy follows the story of three main characters. The first book introduced us to Miira, Kenneth Wu, and Jamie Watson, but primarily focused on Miira. Initially I found it easier to identify more with her, given her backstory and the emotional ups and downs she went through in transitioning from the real world into a virtual reality universe.

This book was fast paced with an intricately woven plot. I loved the suspense, the twists and turns and misdirection that also continued into the last book of the trilogy.

I particularly enjoyed the description of the game that took place in ancient Japan where Kenneth got the opportunity to save Miira and Jamie.

I appreciated the developing friendship between Miira and young Jamie. He became a bit of a mentor for Miira in the gaming world and also as she travelled in Innerscape. And I liked that Miira was a quick study who did her best to embrace the new experiences that were thrown her way.

I could hardly wait to read the next book to see whether the three protagonists would even survive, much less overcome the challenges that were thrown their way.

https://www.amazon.com/Godsend-Innerscape-Book-2-ebook/dp/B076HMMGHX/ref=pd_sim_1/143-1582068-4892022?pd_rd_w=ovCHL&pf_rd_p=2dd164f0-90c0-4d86-b559-9c82b4532fdb&pf_rd_r=K49MVSNYH2MX2XVBW2A2&pd_rd_r=4a21a05d-e230-4340-9c82-777463cd783b&pd_rd_wg=jx9OC&pd_rd_i=B076HMMGHX&psc=1

And last but not least, Nabatea:

In the last book of the Innerscape trilogy, the author kept building the suspense, and then slowly revealed more and more answers to the mystery of what makes Kenneth Wu tick. In the end, all the loose ends got wrapped up in a satisfying way, although I still found myself wanting to spend more time with Miira, Kenneth and Jamie.

Overall, I found reading the three books to be quite a wild ride. The author did an excellent job of keeping me engaged in the story and concerned for the three protagonists.

These books are well written—free of typos, poor grammar and other artifacts of bad writing and careless proofreading.

With its well-developed world, its mysterious story, strong visual elements, and complex characters, I think this trilogy would make an excellent science fiction TV series.

Meantime, I’ll be reading the author’s other books.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B076NN3FZD?notRedirectToSDP=1&ref_=dbs_mng_calw_2&storeType=ebooks

The three books now have 24, 6 and 5 reviews respectively. I know it’s silly but I keep looking at those numbers and thinking how respectable they look. I really have to say a big ‘thank you’ to every single person who took the time to leave a review. You’ve made me a very happy woman.

Okay, I’d better climb down from cloud nine and get back to work learning how to edit [videos]. Take care and stay well.

Cheers,
Meeks


Boychik – a review

I’ve loved Laurie Boris’ work since I read her novel – Drawing Breath – back in Indies Unlimited days. That book has remained my favourite until now. Boychik has the same immediacy, the same heart as Drawing Breath, and I absolutely loved it. This is the review I just left on amazon.com:

It’s hard to define what makes Boychik so wonderful because the story has it all – great characters, a great narrative and a sense of time and place like no other. For a couple of delightful days, It transported me to Prohibition New York and beguiled me with the sights and sounds and /smells/ of that era.

I don’t actually know what ‘lox’ is, but I love pickles so I could almost taste the food being made, and eaten, in the Deli. Most of all though, I experienced all of these almost alien sensations through the eyes of two young people on the cusp of growing up. And falling in love.

Yes, there is a thread of romance running through the story, but mostly it’s about love and tradition and old expectations clashing with the culture of a new country. In a strange sort of way, Boychik made me nostalgic for a time and place I’ve never known. It made me /care/.

In my not so humble opinion, Boychik really does have it all, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Read it. You’re welcome. 🙂

The only thing that makes me sad is that the story is over. But it’s a good sad. 🙂

cheers
Meeks


I’ve been interviewed! -dance-

I’ve been a huge fan of author D.Wallace Peach [Diana] since I read her speculative fiction novel, The Bone Wall , so when she asked if I’d like to be interviewed about Vokhtah, I felt honoured. Then I read her questions, and I could barely contain my joy. Here’s a taste:

THE most original sci-fi book I’ve ever read is Vokhtah by Andrea Flory. The depth of her world-building and character-construction is highly creative and intensely alien, right down to the language these insect-like creatures use. I’ve been wanting to interview her and finally got the chance. Welcome Andrea!

1. You decided to create an alien world without humans. Lots of authors do that, but their characters are often “human in disguise” with human-ish thoughts and emotions and cultural variations. Your characters are definitely NOT human. What inspired you to create a completely alien species?

Aaaah Diana! Thank you for inviting me, but…you’ve opened a real Pandora’s box here. What inspired me? I could say it was the original Mr Spock played by Leonard Nimoy, or the character of Dexter, the ‘good’ psychopath, or the aliens of The Left Hand of Darkness by the late Ursula K. Le Guin, but that would only approximate the truth.

To give you a genuine answer I would have to change your question to ‘Why do so many humans create aliens in the first place?’

To that question, my answer is that we’re looking for answers about ourselves.

You can read the whole interview, and Diana’s review of Vokhtah here:
https://mythsofthemirror.com/2021/08/05/vokhtah-sci-fi-world-building-with-acflory/

I’m off to chat to people on Diana’s blog, and I’d love to see you there as well.

Hugs,
Meeks


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