Tag Archives: 6/5

Right to Kill, by John Barlow

I just submitted a review of ‘Right to Kill’ on amazon.com. Simply put, I loved it. Read on for the full review:

I’ve been a fan of John Barlow since first reading ‘Hope Road’ quite a few years ago. So when I was asked to write a review of his latest story, I knew it would be good, I just never expected it to be /this/ good.

Like all three books in the Hope Road series, the characters in ‘Right to Kill’ all feel as if you’ve known them, or people like them, for ages. Some you would never include on your Christmas list, but others feel so real you want to hug them, laugh with them, cry with them.

The main character, Detective Sergeant Joe Romano feels utterly real too. He’s smart and principled, a /good/ man, but he’s also a little bit broken and a little bit lost. The pillars of his life have shifted and he’s treading water, going through the motions in the hope that he’ll rediscover some meaning to life.

When Craig Shaw is found burnt to a crisp in his Mum’s old Corolla, it’s Joe Romano’s colleagues in the Leeds police force who seem to be going through the motions. Why? Because Craig Shaw is a drug dealer and general low life, and the world is probably better off without him.

But does anyone really deserve to die?

As far as Joe Romano is concerned, the answer is no and he sets out to prove it.

How Joe proves it will keep you reading long past the point when you know you should turn out the light and go to sleep. I know it had that effect on me, and I can honestly say I did not see the ending coming. And yet, Barlow told this story so well that there was a huge sense of ‘oh, of course!’ once the identity of the killer is revealed.

That fulfilling sense of resolution is why I call this story the perfect thriller. We learn as Joe learns, clue by clue. We may not be as smart as Joe in putting the pieces of the jigsaw together, but once he does, we know it’s right. It could be no other way.

Telling enough but not telling too much is a tightrope without a safety net. Walking that tightrope is damn hard, but John Barlow makes it seem effortless.

This is a story I would recommend to anyone. I wish I could give it a 6 out of 5.

The link to ‘Right to Kill’ on amazon.com is below:

Have a great weekend everyone!


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. ūüôā




Shift – a promise fulfilled

shift picScience fiction author Hugh Howey has been a firm favourite of mine since I read, and reviewed, his novel ‘Half Way Home’. I subsequently read ‘Wool’, the serialized novel that first pushed this unassuming indie writer to stardom. I enjoyed Wool, but it left me feeling as if there should have been something… more.

Shift is that something more.

For those of you who have never read Wool, the story tells of a post-apocalyptic time in the US when the only survivors live in a mammoth silo buried deep underground. This upside-down skyscraper is the only world that generations of survivors have ever known because the world outside is still toxic.

The story is gripping, and fast paced, with strong, likable characters, but the hints about how this all came about, and how the silo really works, only explain the ‘how’ and the ‘now’. They do not go deeper into the ‘why’.

The three novels that together comprise the Shift Omnibus not only provide the historical context that Wool lacks, they provide a chilling glimpse into the political and cultural attitudes that can allow something like this to happen. They also make the reader wonder if something like this could ever happen in real life.

To put it simply, Shift is that rare beast, a series that makes you think. And that is exactly why I delayed this review for so long.

I crave novels that make me think, but I have learned that a lot of readers simply want to be entertained. They want to be taken out¬†of the real world, not seduced into wondering if the world in which they live is really as ‘safe’ as they think it is.

These are the people who publicly objected to George R.R.Martin killing off some of their favourite characters in A Song of Fire and Ice. These are also the people who demand a happy ending no matter what.

Now George R.R.Martin is so big in the world of fantasy that his fans far out-weigh his detractors, but Hugh Howey is a young author with his feet still planted firmly in the indie world. And therein lies my problem. I truly believe Shift is the best thing Howey has written [so far] and the last thing I want to do is put readers off by making them think Shift is too philosophical, or ¬†political, or literary. Or too much like ‘work’.

The hell of it is that Shift is philosophical, political, literary etc., but there is nothing inaccessible about it. Yes there were times when I literally re-read the same sentence again and again – just because the prose was so beautiful. But at the same time there was nothing¬† ‘arty farty’, or ‘see how many big words I know’ about it.

In the same way, a reader can choose to go deep into the philosophy, or simply enjoy the characters and the plot. This next bit will be a little bit of a spoiler,  but it illustrates my point :

Spoiler alert

There is a character called Solo in Shift. He has lived in a silo by himself for years, his only companion a little cat. But cats don’t live forever, and one day the cat dies.¬†

Now I love cats, so I was going to be affected no matter what, but I believe even someone who hated cats would be touched because of ¬†Solo’s¬†reaction. ¬†The loneliness radiating from that scene is universal.¬† It really could make a stone weep. And yet there is not a word of melodrama from start to finish.

End spoiler alert

So to all those science fiction readers out there,¬† I’d like to say this – ¬†no matter what you are looking for in a book, you will find it in Shift.

I rarely give out stars because they are so arbitrary, but if pressed I would give Shift a 6/5. It truly is a promise fulfilled.



Don’t tell anyone – a most surprised review

dont tell anyoneI had Laurie Boris’ third novel – Don’t tell anyone – sitting on my Kindle for over a week before I started reading it. Why? Because of the elephant in the room called cancer.

Cancer is one of those taboo topics none of us want to think about, and I knew one of the characters in ‘Don’t tell anyone’, would have breast cancer.

My hesitation was further complicated by the fact that I’ve had my own brush with cancer. All my tests have been negative for over two and a half years, but it just so happened that I was waiting on the results of my latest tests last week, so…

I’m happy to say the test results were all negative, but even if they had not been, ¬†‘Don’t tell anyone’ would have cheered me up!

I can see a lot of you re-reading that last sentence with puzzled expressions. Why would a book that talks about cancer cheer anyone up?

The answer, as they say in the classics, “is complicated”.

‘Don’t tell anyone’ is a character driven story that revolves around the relationships between Liza, a thirty-something woman, her husband Adam, her sixty-five year old Jewish mother-in-law, Estelle, and her gay brother-in-law Charlie.

All four characters are immensely likable, although I have to say that Charlie was my favourite, by far. He’s sexy, funny and lovable, all in one. He and Liza have been friends since college but there are things in their shared past that need to be resolved. In fact, resolving the past is key to the relationships in this family.

All of us have issues with family members. Most of those issues get swept under the carpet, year after year, because they are too hard to resolve without a huge fight, and the potential of destroying the family in the process. But when someone in your family is diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer, everything changes.

The discovery that Estelle has lumps in both breasts, and didn’t do anything about them for five years, turns the family dynamic on its head, undermining the comfortable assumptions they had all been living with for so long. ¬†In the process, long-held secrets are exposed, secrets like the fact that Estelle’s mother and grandmother, both died of breast cancer.

But while the discovery of Estelle’s cancer exposes some secrets, it also breeds new ones. How can Liza tell her husband that his mother wants to commit suicide rather than suffer the fate of her own mother and grandmother? Worse still, how can Liza reveal that Estelle has asked her to help with the suicide?

That particular secret eventually leads to a revelation which almost destroys Liza’s marriage. But not for the reason you might think. I can’t tell you any more because that would spoil some of the best parts of the story. What I can say, however, is that lancing all these boils leads to both growth, and resolution, and that is part of the reason I loved the story so very much.

I believe anyone reading ‘Don’t tell anyone’ will be able to relate to Liza, Adam and Charlie. However I, personally, related to Estelle the most, and her part of this finely crafted story was what cheered me. There is a¬†rightness¬†to Estelle’s life that touched me on so many levels, and that rightness permeates the story.

As a writer myself, I feel an enormous respect for Laurie Boris, and more than a little envy. Her understanding of the human psyche is exceptional, and her mastery of the craft of writing is flawless. It could not have been easy weaving all these complex characters and relationships into something that reads, and feels, so right, and yet she makes it look easy. I wish I could write like this, I truly do.

In my not-so-humble opinion, ‘Don’t tell anyone’ is a story that everyone should read. No ‘ifs’, ‘buts’ or ‘maybes’.¬†Read it you lot,¬†or miss out on a novel that is at least 6 stars out of 5.

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