Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Review: Oliver & Jack At Lodgings In Lyme by Christina E. Pilz

I was gifted an ARC of this book in return for an honest and fair review. This review first appeared on the WROTE Podcast website.
I don’t usually start a series in the middle, but I wanted to read Lodgings in Lyme as I know the area reasonably well. Also, I would be reading the book at the very time I would be staying there.
I had no idea what to expect, going into the series completely cold. This is the continuing saga of two young men who love each other, but haven’t acknowledged it physically yet, an audacious, yet not terribly serious, tale of what it was like to be young, gay, and the wrong side of the law in the 1880’s. Jack and Oliver (Jack “Artful Dodger” Dawkins and Oliver Twist – all grown up) are on the run and have to get out of London after a crime that would see Oliver hanged if he was found out. Jack has some nebulous plan to head to Lyme Regis to find out more about his long lost family, but before that, they have to stay one step ahead of the law. Jack is also injured and getting more unwell by the moment, and spending hours in a creaky, leaky coach isn’t doing his health any good at all.
First off, one minor niggle to point out and put aside. The cover, stunning as it is, but the picture is not of Lyme Regis! Call me petty, but it did make me question the quality of the book before I had even opened it. Some readers might then start picking holes in the fabric of the book on this point alone, but that would be a shame, because aside from the artistic licence given to the photograph, the author has obviously researched her subject with forensic detail. The historical setting and language is convincing. She hasn’t tried to ape Dickens; not at all, but put her own spin on two well-loved characters and in doing so, made them her own.
Oliver is still the golden boy, possibly able to get away with murder, and Jack is the wild card, still not able to let go of his thieving ways, missing the “craft” of what he does best. He is ill-mannered, even to those who want to help him, which doesn’t make him that sympathetic. It seems as if Oliver’s charms aren’t rubbing off on him yet. I hope they do, because at the moment, I don’t care for him very much at all. Considering the precarious position they are in, relying on the charity of strangers, his behaviour seems self-destructive at best. His only redeeming feature is his obvious love for Oliver, and the lengths he will go to, to protect him. Oliver, on the other hand, seems very capable of looking after himself, and his doe-eyed innocence does not seem very convincing after a while. They are an odd couple but somehow, it works.
I loved the authentic voices, the descriptive scenes and historical detail, all given a lightness of touch which saves this series from being weighty and full of its own importance. Instead, there is a mischievousness to the dialogue and tenderness during the intimate scenes. The sex, when it happens, is not lengthy or lurid, but is well-written and cleverly dealt with. Sexy, yes, but not gratuitously so.
In the end, I would be very intrigued to discover the fate of these two men. History shows us that a HEA isn’t really feasible, but this is MM historical fiction, and anything can happen. It will be interesting to find out. I just hope that Jack relinquishes his uncouth ways before they lead both him and Oliver to the gallows.
BLURB
An ex-apprentice and his street thief companion flee the dangers of Victorian London and the threat of the hangman’s noose in search of family and the promise of a better life.
After Oliver Twist commits murder to protect Jack Dawkins (The Artful Dodger), both must flee London’s familiar but dangerous environs for safety elsewhere. Together they travel to Lyme Regis in the hopes of finding Oliver’s family. Along the way, Jack becomes gravely ill and Oliver is forced to perform manual labor to pay for the doctor’s bills. 
While Oliver struggles to balance his need for respectability with his growing love for Jack, Jack becomes disenchanted with the staid nature of village life and his inability to practice his trade. But in spite of their personal struggles, and in the face of dire circumstances, they discover the depth of their love for each other.

Review: Remains by J. Warren

This review first appeared on the WROTE Podcast website. To find out more about what makes him tick, and get links to his work, listen to Episode 121: So That's a Thing!

REVIEW

Told in the first person, this is a deep, dark and compelling book. Mike Kendall is a troubled man, on meds and having therapy to untangle the torments of his past, when he is told to go home to his folks for Thanksgiving. At the same time, bones have been found, which might belong to a boy he was friendly with in his teens.

The author has been very clever, as the whole way through the book, I wasn't sure whether Mike was a good guy, or a bad guy trying to cover up past crimes (no spoilers.) For a while, I didn't actually like him very much. He didn't seem that caring towards his girlfriend, forever waiting for him to call her, or particularly sympathetic towards his sister, whose lesbian affair was alienating her from their parents. But I know that people with mental health issues can sometimes come across as unlikeable, so the author had hit the mark with Mike dead on. When we find out the reason for all his past torments, it seemed a little too easy, but there was enough to keep the mind ticking over with everything else going on around him.

It's difficult to say much more without letting slip some of the many secrets the small town of Placeville holds, but I can say that there are many, and they are very dark indeed. I genuinely did not see the denouement coming, and I wasn't expecting the satisfaction I felt at the very end. In fact, I read it twice to make sure I hadn't missed anything.

Anyone fascinated by the "small-town America seething with murky skeletons in the closet" genre, will love this. It is a Salinger-esque character study of one man, but also one place, the town, and the lengths it will go to, to remain normal on the outside. Again, I'm choosing words carefully, so as not to spoil anything. There are elements of horror, of murder/mystery, of sex (and one extremely well-written intimate scene, blooming into a fledgling relationship) and social commentary, as well as the complicated dynamics within a fragmenting family. Half-way through Remains I realised I didn't want to put the book down until I'd finished it. It was a slow burn, to be sure, but well-worth the effort.


BLURB

J. Warren's Remains is an insular story, almost claustrophobic as we first join Mike Kendall where he lives: walled up in his own mind. As the book progresses, Kendall is drawn back to his hometown of Placerville, when the remains of a long-missing boy are finally found, a boy Kendall had shared a complicated history. No matter how much Kendall tries to resist the underside of the mystery behind Randy McPherson's disappearance, he must confront the lies that he has built his life upon.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Daimonion (Book 1 of the Apocalypse) by J.P. Jackson

I was gifted an ARC for an honest and fair review. This review first appeared on the WROTE Podcast website. Daimonion is published on 10th July 2017.

Daimonion is many things. The first book in The Apocalypse trilogy, a debut novel, and a blood-spattered, gory quest for one demon who struggles with the whole “killing kids” thing. The book is told in the first person, and has more than one protagonist, but it works because they are each given a chapter, clearly marked. This can go horribly wrong, but not in this case.

Dati is the main character, a demon who is a bit hapless, to be honest. Despite his his job description, he seems to have a human side, which gets him into all sorts of trouble, especially when he tries to save one special person who eventually ends up in a cocoon. He just seems to have the kiss of death about him, but I liked him because he was obviously struggling with unfamiliar feelings. Obsession, rather than love, but for a demon, it’s a start….

I couldn’t fault the writing at all. There were no faltering mis-steps at any stage, so I felt I was in good hands, which was essential as urban fantasy horror is not a genre I’m familiar with. I usually like my horror to to have a human heart, allbeit one that has been dragged across a gravel road, still beating. This was unfamiliar and it took me a few pages to really get into it. But I did because the author has obviously had a huge amount of fun, throwing in satyrs, vampyres (not sparkly ones), shape-shifters and blood-thirsty demons, and a succubus so sexy I almost fancied her myself.

At first, I thought I was going to miss the human set-up before realising that it was there, but told from the demon’s side, something I’ve never experienced before. The most memorable human was the girl, untrained witch, Jenae, also a stroppy teenager, which I loved. Her voice was en pointe, a thoroughly modern witch, without resorting to stereotype. The dialogue was sharp and there was a lot of humour, but not in a slapstick way. The book didn’t take itself too seriously, as some of these books about an imminent Apocalypse can be. The bombastic horror is inescapable, but balanced with a lightness of touch. It’s an interesting concept and a risky one, but it works.

One quibble would be that the plot was slightly confusing, as books with lots of characters and unfamiliar names always are (to me.) With first books, there is a tendency to throw in the kitchen sink, just in case you never write another one, and I sensed an element of that, even though the book is part of a trilogy. Now that everyone has been introduced, it will be really interesting to see how the plot develops. With a less frantic pace, the reader will have more breathing space to sit back, relax and enjoy.

As well as the icky parts, the descriptions were fantastic, steeping the reader in a post-modern, urban world with utter conviction. Monster dogs, magic, creatures of fantasy move around an indeterminate city, scenes of torture are gut-twisting but never seem gratuitous. The characters all had some element which kept them from being unsympathetic, apart from Master, who is badass (but then, he has to be…) Alyx, Dati’s potential/possible love interest, did get more interesting as the book unfolded, as well as Dati’s inner conflict over unfamiliar feelings for him.

To round up, this is a steaming, visceral debut novel for those who like their urban fantasy steeped in blood and gore, and demons wrestling with human dilemmas.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Spinning The Record: Stories by Robert Hyers


This review first appeared on the WROTE Podcast website, where Robert Hyers will be interviewed in September!

Don't let the rather lofty blurb put you off. Robert Hyers' anthology of short stories is a pleasure to read. Amidst the pin-sharp observations and savage wit, there are also gripping, staggeringly-detailed and well-written tales, all set amidst the gay club scene.

And a what a scene it is; dripping with drag queens, twinks, muscle-boys, and ordinary, newly-out men stumbling around as they try to find their feet in a vivid, complicated new world. The fashion, the music, the threat of homophobic violence at every turn. And the drugs...

There are a LOT of drugs, with some graphic details of their use and aftermath, enough to make a middle-aged lady clutch her pearls. Nothing is really glamorised. Instead, it is searingly honest, telling of the dark side of all the seemingly carefree, hedonistic fun. There's nothing in the way of balls-to-the-wall sex, but it is implied, and that makes it all the more potent. It's a heady, painful mix that will ring true for many men, whatever their age, race and financial circumstances.

It is all here, an oozing, sticky melting-pot that you will want to stick your finger into again and again, even though sometimes, the ingredients are hard to digest. I read this all in one gulp, as once I had read the first story, I couldn't actually put the book down. This is a world I'm unfamiliar with; a frightening, colourful, dangerous world. It is hard to choose a standout, but the stories that stick in my mind the most are Bosom Buddies and Bacchae

The first is the stage performance of two drag queens, one reaching for the stars, the other falling from them. Any story that features RuPaul's Drag Race will immediately have my attention, and the result is savage but hilarious. It is one of the shortest stories, but packs a powerful punch.

The second, Bacchae, concerns two men out with their "fag hag" female friend, ostensibly to pull her out of postpartum depression. I hate, hate, hate the term "fag hag" but it fits in this book, and anyway, the story isn't about her. It's about a kiss, a misunderstanding, dreams dashed and a spark of hope. Bittersweet and beautiful.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

In The Hot Seat with Daniel Riding, author of The Secret Diary Of A Naughty Cat


It is my pleasure to put author, and man of many other talents, Daniel Riding, under the microscope to answer a few questions about self-publishing his work, and his new release. Daniel's debut children's book, A Secret Diary of a Naughty Cat has just been released on Amazon. Links are provided below. My review of A Secret Diary of a Naughty Cat will be posted later this week!


So Daniel, tell us about Naughty Cat, and where you found your inspiration.

Naughty Cat is exactly what it says on the tin, a story about a very Naughty Cat. My inspiration came from my own two cats who have given me an endless source of inspiration. Some of it very funny, and some of it only funny after the fact that they have been naughty. Not so funny at the time. Ha ha!

What age group is the book written for?

To be honest I find it difficult to put a definite age range on the story because as a book seller in my day job, I come across children of all ages who’s reading ages vary widely. For now I have put it at 6 and up but really, anyone can read it. 

How difficult was it to write for that age group? 

Not particularly, in all honesty I am a big kid myself and am pretty sure I always will be. This book was a lot of fun to write and I can guarantee there will be a few more Naughty Cat books in the future.

What is your writing routine? 

I don’t really have a writing routine yet to be honest. I suffer from anxiety, depression and PTSD so these make having a solid writing routine a bit difficult. I just write when I can. Some days I can’t write at all, and some days I can write all day. It just depends. I do hope to have a bit more structure one day though.

I love your cover design! Who did it for you? 



I did it myself. I have always been arty (I’m hoping that doesn’t sound pretentious lol), even as a kid I loved being creative. I have experience with Photoshop as well and thought that seeing as I love playing with it I may as well do my covers myself and save myself some pennies in the process. I love doing my covers and for now I will be doing them myself. 

How did you find the whole self-publishing experience? 


At first extremely daunting, there is so much information out there it is really easy to get overwhelmed. But once I took my time to do my research and work out what was best for me as an individual, the self-publishing process is actually a lot of fun. From formatting your eBook to look amazing and then uploading it to Amazon. It is amazing to see your book go live on Amazon for everyone to buy as well. 

Why did you go down the self-publishing route?

For a long time I believed that the only way for me was to be published traditionally. I saw so many people self-publishing and have always been impressed with how these authors do everything themselves and I never thought myself capable of that same level of skill and ability. The idea of self-publishing actually scared me because I always thought I would mess things up, at least if I eventually could get myself traditionally published I would have help. 

But somewhere along the line I watched a lot of YouTube videos and listened to a lot of podcasts and eventually I taught myself the process and thought that it would be the best way for me. Not only does it feel good to do things all on my own, it is actually helping my issues with self-confidence as well.

If you fancy it, you can head to my website www.danielriding.com to see my most recent posts about it all.

NB: Daniel's most recent post about his choice to go down the self-publishing route is useful and enlightening. I recommend it!



How important would you say marketing yourself as a selfpublished author is? Do you have any tips? 

I think marketing is so important, whether you are traditionally or self-published. In today’s world of social media, we need to stay on top of things and make sure our work is visible for people to see.

In terms of tips, I think I am far too new at this to offer advice. If anyone else has any tips then feel free to send me a message or tweet. Any and all help is always appreciated.

Actually there is a tip I can offer. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

What other genres have you written? 

As well as the children’s books, I do also write Self-Help books. I find that with my many years of mental health issues etc I know what it is like to struggle. I think it is a good thing to use my experience to maybe help people through writing this kind of book. I have just released my first self-help book which is called How to build Confidence and Overcome Fear

In the future I do want to write romance, paranormal romance and fantasy novels. I can see many pen names in my future. 

What’s one mistake that you’ve made in your writing career so far? 

This may sound corny, but not believing in myself. Guaranteed this is something I am still struggling with, but by publishing my first book it allowed me to realise that despite my issues with mental health I can take control of my life and achieve some pretty cool things.

If you were to pick something what you would like others to absolutely know about you? 

Not too sure how to answer this one really, lol. I’m a many of simple pleasures. I have a husband, two cats, and the extent of my rock and roll lifestyle includes being tucked under a blanket with a book and a rather large cup of tea. I know I know, I really should calm down. I don’t know how I keep up with myself. 

Do you have any strange writing habits? 

Hmm, I don’t know if this is strange or not but I can’t write in silence. I need cheesy music on or a TV show on in the background. I find that if I try to work in silence the crippling self-doubt comes down on my hard, at least if I have a distraction when I stop writing momentarily, I can pick up where I left off pretty easily. 

Did you suffer from writer’s block at any stage? How did you overcome it? 

Not while I was writing The Secret Diary of a Naughty Cat, it came quite easily to be honest. But the two children’s books I’m in the process of writing now have left me trying to shift the occasional writer’s block. I find it best to step away from whatever you’re writing when you get stuck, go for a walk, read, or watch a TV show. It allows your mind to relax and focus on something fun and entertaining. This in turn will relax the writer and you should be able to carry on. 

Finally, if you could pass on a single piece of advice to authors out there reading this interview, what would it be? 

The once piece of advice that I always offer is not of my own creation. It comes from the author Nora Roberts and she said that ‘You can edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page’. Simple, true and effective.


The Secret Diary of a Naughty Cat

Ever wonder why cats can be so naughty?

Well why not check out The Secret Diary of a Naughty Cat from debut children's author Daniel Riding.

Naughty Cat will take you through the many ways a cat can be naughty and how they get away with it all (mostly).

From sleeping to eating, and playing and even pooping, you will find tons of laughs and giggles in this wonderful book about a very naughty cat.

Reviewers have said:

Charming, funny and so well observed! (5 Stars)

Spot on and written with humour and love. (5 Stars)

Funny, charming and sweet! (5 Stars)

Buy Links:



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Thursday, 29 June 2017

A Cautionary Tale for Self-Published Authors

As a self-published author, it is exceptionally hard to know who to trust. There are countless companies out there promising to promote your book, to make you a best-selling author, blah, blah, blah, when most people know that it's luck and who you know that will propel you into the stratosphere. Good writing doesn't necessarily come into it at all (step forward, E.L. James.)

I don't want to go into the stratosphere. It would be nice for people to enjoy my work, and to get reviews from round the world. It would be nice to be able to afford a facial every month, or get a Discovery (the new model but 18 months old, so we don't get stuck with depreciation.) It would even be lovely to fly my family to the Bahamas (premium economy, not Gulfstream. We're just not interested in that world.) And yeah, I'd like to make enough so that people don't dismiss my writing as my "little hobby.' That would also be nice. But that is cloud-cuckoo land - ain't gonna happen, no matter how many "positive thoughts"I send out into the universe. I guess I'm too much of a realist. 

And now I'm a cynic as well. 

And self-promoting is HARD, which is why, when someone I trust implicitly (and still do) recommended a company to give one of my books a leg-up, I was cautiously optimistic.

In February, I approached blog tour company, wanting to arrange a Blog Tour for one of my books, Closer Than Blood, and for inclusion in their Review Vault. If anyone wants to PM me on Facebook, I will gladly tell you who they are, but I'm not throwing bricks at them in public. They will know who they are anyway. 


NOTE: The company has since been taken over by a larger promotion company. Apparently, the merger happened on April 17, which is something I had been unaware of until very recently. Contrary to popular belief, I don't spend all my time on Facebook and obviously missed the post that said the merger had happened. I'm not an expert in corporate matters but I'm sure that mergers do not get organised within a few weeks, which meant that they must have known this was happening when they took my money. 

Looking back, there were signs all was not well. The fact that the owner wanted to communicate via Facebook rather than email as "she didn't often get to pick them up," was one. The simplicity of the website was another. And the fact that I had to send through everything again after she said I hadn't provided her with the information she needed (I had.) It all seemed very disorganised and a bit haphazard.

So I was asked to provide teasers, links and synopsis, which I did, in the form of a blog post. I was then told that people were picking up Closer in the Review Vault and reviews would start coming in soon. True enough, I had two reviews from authors I was already friends with plus another one saying "It was great!"  I was grateful, but for $50 I was kind of expecting a bit more than that, even a few bad ones would have been good. 


And yes, I know blog tour operators cannot force bloggers to review a book. That would be impossible. But it seems more people are saying, "yeah, I'll review it," then never doing it, and hey presto, they have a free book. It's a dick move, but THAT ISN'T THE FAULT OF THE BLOG TOUR OPERATOR. However, if arranging Blog Tours and Reviews is your business, your reputation depends on people getting some kind of result for their money, even negative reviews, so you need to work a bit harder to get good contacts so that results can be seen. 

The same with the Blog Tour. I was disappointed when the bloggers just cut and pasted my own post. It made me wonder what I had paid the company to do. After asking, I was provided with a list of bloggers approached to feature Closer Than Blood. This wasn't the list of people who had actually done it. I didn't get that. I had to hunt down each blogger and find out myself whether they had featured Closer or not. As I did 80% of the work myself anyway, I believe $150 is a hell of a lot for not much.

Saying, "oh, you need to do two or three before it makes an impact," doesn't cut it, because established authors with a wide fan base have experienced the same thing with some blog tour operators, including this one.

So I guess the moral of this story is, there are very few people you can trust, and if you're a self-publisher, you need to trust no-one and hunt down bloggers yourself and don't be afraid to ask them to feature you on their blog. I paid $150 for a blog tour, and $50 for a space in the review fault, with a company that no longer exists. 

This is fraud, isn't it?

And I'm actually sure that the owner of of the company is so disorganised, she just doesn't get it, rather than make an active attempt to defraud people. The problem is, you can't run a business like this as a cottage industry. People expect to see something for their money. My sales didn't increase one iota, and I had 2 reviews maximum for $150, which is piss-poor value for money. 

Lesson learned. 


Monday, 19 June 2017

Pick up your copy of summer romance The Cloud Seeker, FREE on Instafreebie!

I'm looking for more reviews for my book, The Cloud Seeker. It is currently free on Instafreebie until 7th July!



Cat Cartwright's sixth sense tells her there are storms brewing in her peaceful English village. A stranger is in town, one that she does not trust despite her attraction to him. He is also the estranged father of Luca, the young boy she looks after for one of her closest friends and his spiteful wife. As the handsome, irritable New Yorker is gradually accepted into the community, Cat has no choice but to watch the strengthening bond between father and son, knowing that Max O'Donnell is not all he seems. 


A tale of ghosts, redemption, and romance, set in the Chiltern hills of summer.