Saturday, 28 November 2020

Review: The Sadeiest by Austrian Spencer

 

The Sadeiest

Is today a good day to die?

Death – a walking skeleton armed with a scythe, a rider of the apocalypse, it has always been assumed – is a man that brings the souls of the dead to wherever they are destined to go.

But what if we got that wrong? What if he were a ghost that, instead of moving your soul on silently after you had died, actually did the hard part for you?

Death has to die, again and again, to pay for his sins, and to free trapped souls before their bodies perish – only to replace those souls, to die for them.

A Death whose existence is a curse, where the other riders of the Apocalypse are not his allies, but his enemies.

Armed only with his morals, his memories and the advice of a child teacher, Williams, a Sadeiest, travels through the deaths of other people, on his way to becoming something greater. Something that will re-define the Grim Reaper.

Death just came to life, in time to fight for a child hunted by the other horsemen of the Apocalypse.

How do you want to die today? 

Purchase The Sadeiest

My Review:

It is said that the story of the twentieth century is that of psychotherapy. That is to say, the emergence of a method of dealing with the collective traumas of two world wars and all the wars that have followed since, not to say the wars that will continue, ad infinitum. 

In part, this could also be the narrative of the Sadeiest. Concerned with redemption and atonement, the characters skip from one body to the next, reliving the deaths of others in their own psychotherapeutic journey for existential vindication. 

The novel is experimental in form (transcending its manifestation as a graphic novel), poetic, erotic, pornographic even (in some of the accompanying images) but what links the hero/ines is their yearning for connection. I found their discoveries of themselves and the process they had to undergo heartbreaking (in the best sense), especially the children. 

One particular character inhabits Auschwitz; a final destination that a book like this could hardly ignore. In my opinion it was the most evocative because we have so much prior knowledge but it fits well within the stylistic differences of the characters' stories. But be warned: this is not a story for the fainthearted nor the easily distracted. It is a story that requires your minute attention in order to get the most from it. I can't pretend that I understood every single aspect of its narrative logic or world rules but I understood enough to keep turning the virtual pages. 


 

Author Bio:

Austrian had an unfortunate trauma aged eight, when a truck drove over him and his ‘Grifter’ bike. This made him bedridden and a captive of books for too many years. The habit persisted throughout his life (reading books, not staying in bed), to the extent that his daughter’s first painting was of him holding a book, rather than her hand. He has the picture framed in the upstairs toilet, to look at whilst feeling vulnerable.

He is the ‘glass-half-full’, an eternal optimist and believes passionately in you. You are doing exactly what you need to be doing at this moment in your life. He often thinks this, while staring at his daughter’s first painting.

Austrian does not watch horror films, though enjoys horror books. His influences include Alan Moore, Dave Sim, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, The family King, Iain M.Banks, from whom he wishes to learn. Be inspired.

He owes them everything, despite their beards.

The Sadeiest is Austrian’s debut novel. 

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One particular character inhabits Auschwitz; a final destination that a book like this could hardly ignore. In my opinion it was the most evocative because we have so much prior knowledge but it fits well within the stylistic differences of the characters' stories. 

But be warned: this is not a story for the fainthearted nor the easily distracted. It is a story that requires your minute attention in order to get the most from it. I can't pretend that I understood every single aspect of its narrative logic or world rules but I understood enough to keep turning the virtual pages.

Sunday, 22 November 2020

REVIEW: SOUND by Catherine Fearns


 

Sound:

'Can you hear it?A professor of psychoacoustics is found dead in his office. It appears to be a heart attack, until a second acoustician dies a few days later in similar circumstances.

Meanwhile, there’s an outbreak of mysterious illnesses on a council estate, and outbursts of unexplained violence in a city centre nightclub. Not to mention strange noises coming from the tunnels underneath Liverpool. Can it really be a coincidence that death metal band Total Depravity are back in the city, waging their own form of sonic warfare? 

Detective Inspector Darren Swift is convinced there are connections. Still grieving his fiancé’s death and sworn to revenge, he is thrown back into action on the trail of a murderer with a terrifying and undetectable weapon.

But this case cannot be solved using conventional detective work, and D.I. Swift will need to put the rulebook aside and seek the occult expertise of Dr. Helen Hope and her unlikely sidekick, guitarist Mikko Kristensen.'

 My Review:

Phew! What a roller coaster ride! I was honestly sad to finish this trilogy. I hope the characters find new life in other works. We had genetic mamipulation and unholy fire, now sound makes an impact in the third book. All the threads woven in the first two books come together very satisfyingly here. The use of sound is particularly evocative, which I hope will be exploited in any Audio telling of the tale. 

There's also much satisfaction to be had in the final situations of the characters. Love of course plays a part but at no time does this interfere with the detective story that lies at the heart of this enthralling story. Kudos to the author for making her characters human, flawed but always recognisable. If anything, some were tantalsiingly enigmatic, such as the Satanic metal band. 

Liverpool the city is a character unto itself. How marvellous to read this kind of genre-busting story and not have it set in the capital! The author is clever to uses her intimate knowledge of Liverpool to such vivid effect. More than anything, I feel she has inhabited each of her characters in turn, from the Calvinist nun to the death metal guitarist and it is this strange habitation that has made this series of novels such a singular read. More please.

Author Bio:

Catherine Fearns is a writer from Liverpool. Her novels Reprobation (2018) and Consuming Fire (2019) are published by Crooked Cat and are both Amazon bestsellers. As a music journalist Catherine has written for Pure Grain Audio, Broken Amp and Noisey. Her short fiction and non-fiction has appeared in Toasted Cheese, Succubus, Here Comes Everyone, Offshoots and Metal Music Studies. She lives in Geneva with her husband and four children, and when she’s not writing or parenting, she plays guitar in a heavy metal band.

Social media links:

@metalmamawrites

catherinefearns.com


Monday, 16 November 2020

REVIEW: CONSUMING FIRE by Catherine Fearns

 


 

Consuming Fire

'What Has Been Seen Cannot Be Unseen...

Liverpool is in the grip of an intense heatwave, and strange things are happening. 

A woman dies in an apparent case of Spontaneous Human Combustion; a truck explodes on the dock road; the charred corpses of pets litter the city; forest fires ravage the pinewoods... and there are birds everywhere, silent flocks drawing in ominously. 

Detective Inspector Darren Swift thinks there are connections, and his investigation delves into the worlds of football, nightclubs and organised crime. But is he imagining things?

Dr. Helen Hope doesn’t think so. And she believes the key lies in a mysterious seventeenth-century occult book which has gone missing from Liverpool Library. 

In the blistering sequel to Reprobation, DI Swift is forced to confront some inconvenient ghosts from his past as a terrifying shadow lies over his city's reality...'

My Review:

Where Volume 1 of this excellent series was concerned with genetic manipulation, police procedure and Calvinist faith, Volume 2 is concerned with fire and brimstone, criminality and (bizarrely but rightfully) football-related celebrity. You might think this is a genre blend too far but be reassured, it all comes together delightfully, playing against audience expectations and setting up the world-unto-itself of Liverpool for the finale in Volume 3. 

The characters that I loved to from Reprobation (Swift and Helen) are thankfully still here, plus others who might be one thing on the surface but are quite another underneath, hiding in plain sight as it were. Threaded through the story are the the prophecies of a fire demon whose edicts and outrages are skillfully interwoven with present-day happenings, that are themselves the stuff of tabloid sentationalism. The author keeps up a cracking pace and never once gives the impression that the world she creates is in any way too outlandish to be possible. Belief does strange things to people...

Buy it here.

Author Bio:

Catherine Fearns is a writer from Liverpool. Her novels Reprobation (2018) and Consuming Fire (2019) are published by Crooked Cat and are both Amazon bestsellers. As a music journalist Catherine has written for Pure Grain Audio, Broken and Noisey. Her short fiction and non-fiction has appeared in Toasted Cheese, Succubus, Here Comes Everyone, Offshoots and Metal Music Studies. She lives in Geneva with her husband and four children, and when she’s not writing or parenting, she plays guitar in a heavy metal band.

Social media links:

@metalmamawrites

catherinefearns.com


Thursday, 12 November 2020

REVIEW: REPROBATION by Catherine Fearns



 

REPROBATION

Are you one of the elect?

Dr Helen Hope is a a lecturer in eschatology - the study of death, judgement, and the destiny of humankind. She is also a Calvinist nun, her life devoted to atoning for a secret crime.

When a body is found crucified on a Liverpool street, she forms an unlikely alliance with suspect Mikko Kristensen, lead guitarist in death metal band Total depravity. Together they go on the trail of a rogue geneticist who they believe holds the key - not just to the murder but to something much darker.

Aldo on the trail is cynical Scouse detective Darren Swift. In hids first murder case, he must confront his own lack of faith as a series of horrific crimes drag the city of two cathedrals to the gates of hell.

Science meets religious belief in this gripping murder mystery.

Purchase Link: REPROBATION 


 


 MY REVIEW:

Evocations of the city of Liverpool seem particularly apt at the moment. As the city struggles under the rigours of the Covid epidemic, here is a vision of it in Reprobation as a city where people live on many planes of existence: religious, criminal, medical, and the pursuit of law - not just in the police procedural sense of it but also the ethical and moral side of life that drives so much of human behaviour. What is apparent too is the desire confounded by doubt that drives so much of our understanding of the world. 

Thus we have a Nun beset with spiritual doubt, as are the police officers investigating crimes in which she has specialist knowledge. We have a death metal band, ostensibly on the side of Satan, or are they? Above all Reprobation is packed with characters whose real lives are played out below the surface. Some are harmless, though others are evil in a more profound sense because they believe that they do the Lord's work and that God speaks through them. It certainly inspired me to learn more about Calvinism. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel (the first of three). I think it was the unusual combination of the characters and their entirely believable foibles that made them, if not likable sometimes, then certainly relatable. The author has resisted playing into clichés. There is a pleasing sense of the immanent and an exploration of science versus religion that drew me in. Plus, I grew up in Birmingham and if I'm honest it was the death metal band that first attracted me to the story. It's well-paced and (I don't say this often) a real page-turner. It would make a great series so I hope it gets picked up that way. Looking forward to books 2 and 3.

About the author:

Catherine Fearns is a writer from Liverpool. Her novels Reprobation (2018) and Consuming Fire (2019) are published by Crooked Cat and are both Amazon bestsellers. As a music journalist Catherine has written for Pure Grain Audio, Broken Amp and Noisey. Her short fiction and non-fiction has appeared in Toasted Cheese, Succubus, Here Comes Everyone, Offshoots and Metal Music Studies. She lives in Geneva with her husband and four children, and when she’s not writing or parenting, she plays guitar in a heavy metal band. 

 


 

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

TWITTER - @metalmamawrites

WEBSITE - Catherine Fearns


Saturday, 26 September 2020

REVIEW: Tipping Point by Michelle Cook


 

'A tale of loss, manipulation, and the search for the truth

What would you risk to turn back the tide?

Essie Glass might have beena typical eighteen-year-old - had life not dealt her an early blow. Struggling to come to terms with the loss of her family in a terrorist attack, and left with nothing, Essie's not kidding herself about her world. She wants change, and she'll be honest about it, whatever the cost. From behind her keyboard, that is...

After all, this is England, 2035. Earth's climate continues its accelerating collapse. A powerful elite controls the disaster-weary population with propaganda, intimidation, and constant surveillance.

By all appearances, Alex Langford is a highly-respected local businessman - until Essie discovers he's a murderous conspirator who'd see the planet die for his fortune.

Wheb their paths collide, Essie must decide: how much is she really willing to pay for her honesty?

Her choices and the events she sets in motion, pit her against both enemies and supposed friends as she risks more than just her life to thwart them.

Will she succeed in revealing the truth? And will she survive?' 

Buy it here

MY REVIEW

This is a roller-coaster read. Like the best dystopian sci fi, it combines highly, and sometimes wincingly, recognisable facets of our lives now - environmental catastrophe, surveillance, an increasingly right-wing brutal state - and offers the reader the chance to play out these scenarios in the company of Essie, the latest in a long and noble line of plucky yet not always likable heroines, forever assailed by losses of one sort or another but who demonstrates the sort of resilience we should all aspire to. I think what I liked best about her was her unapologetic refusal to be cowed. She is highly relatable.

Interestingly the story is written in first person present simple tense - a style I normally associate with screenplays - for the love of sweet Greta Thunberg, someone give Michelle Cook an option on this book! Cook's choice of tense gives the story an urgent, pell-mell, forward momentum, barely giving the reader time to assimilate what they've read before Essie is off on the next part of her mission.

There are very satisfying tropes here: compromised politicians on the make, business tycoons looking for the next corrupt deal and world domination, and a gaggle of highly principled eco-activists, embroiled in the hacktivism of the dark web and the dubious morals of the chatrooms, as what's left of society dodges the drones to find out exactly what the politicians want so badly.

Cleverly, Cook has set her story mainly in Worcester which makes a pleasant change from more London-centric stories. No one is quite what they seem in Tipping Point. The characters are, to the last woman and man, compromised in some way. The conspiracy theorists will be all over this but perhaps not in the way you might imagine, which is the novel's strength. Events on the world stage are elided, which means that the action, set firmly in the here and now of lives at the bottom of the heap, always feels real.

AUTHOR BIO

Michelle lives in Worcestershire, UK, with her husband Daniel, their two young children, and a cat called Lyra Belacqua. By day, she works for the NHS, a job which she has almost as much passion for as fiction.

Her first joyful steps into creative writing were at the age of ten, when the teacher read out her short story in class. A slapstick tale of two talking kangaroos breaking out of a zoo, the work was sadly lost to history. Still, Michelle never forgot the buzz of others enjoying her words.

More recently, she has had several flash pieces published, was long-listed for the Cambridge 2020 prize for flash fiction, and placed first in the February 2020 Writers’ Forum competition with her short story The Truth About Cherry House. Tipping Point is her debut novel.

Michelle Cook

Thursday, 3 September 2020

REVIEW: 365 DAYS OF GRATITUDE by Mariëlle S. Smith

 

'Gratitude is the wine for the soul. Go on. Get drunk.' Rumi

Being grateful is easy...

...when everything goes according to plan.

But how do you keep it no matter what life throws at you?

Enter 365 Days of Gratitude, the undated daily journal that will help you stay on track. 

After years of barely surviving her own emotional minefield, writing coach Mariëlle S. Smith discovered the transformative power of practising gratitude. But, like no one else, she knows that cultivating an attitude of gratitude is easier said than done.

Complete with inspiring quotes, daily prompts, and recurring check-ins, the 365 Days of Gratitude Journal encourages you to create a sustainable gratitude practice too.

Ready to commit to the life-changing power of gratitude? Order your copy of the 365 Days of Gratitude Journal now. 

PURCHASE LINKS:

Get 50% off the printable PDF until 6th September 2020 with the discount code - HAPPYLAUNCH

Wordsmith 

Payhip

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

My Review:

As someone who has kept a gratitude journal following a bereavement, I very much appreciated the structure and layout of this one. For once I didn't want to punch the screen at the inspirational quotes. My personal fave was the one about the glass half-empty or half-full - just be glad you have a glass. I can certainly relate to that.

I also liked the undated nature of it, meaning you can start it anytime with no pressure - the last thing we need in these strange times. I could see it being useful as part of a course of cognitive behavioural therapy as it charts progress with scores.

Above all it's actionable, meaning that change can be effected. I think it also makes you think deeply about the things in your life that matter the most. For me, it's always other people and their kindness. And in the time of Covid that is truly something to be grateful for.

Author Bio:

Mariëlle S. Smith is a coach for writers and other creatives, an editor and a (ghost) writer. In early 2019 she moved to Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean sea, where she organises writers' retreats, is inspired 24/7 and feeds more stray cats than she can count.

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Saturday, 29 August 2020

REVIEW: My Travels with a Dead Man by Steve Searls


 

Jane Takako Wolfsheim learns she can alter time and space after meeting a charismatic stranger named Jorge Luis Borges.

Inextricably she falls for Borges. Soon, however Borges’ lies and emotional abuse, and nightmares about a demonic figure, “the man in black”, nearly drive Jane mad. After her parents are murdered, Jane flees with Borges. Both the ghost of haiku master, Basho, and the Daibutsu of Kamakura, a statue of Buddha that appears in her dreams, offer her cryptic advice. Unable to trust anyone, Jane must find the strength to save herself, her unborn child, and possibly the future of humanity.

MY REVIEW: This story was initially quite baffling but drew me in as I read. What I found most gratifying was the heroine's gradual self-awareness as she navigates her strange life and comes to discover her gift. That she is of Japanese extraction only added to the story. I came to see the world through her eyes rather than a Western-centric world-view, which is always refreshing.

The playing with identities and slippage from one reality to the next was Lynchian in its scope. It was hallucinatory and sometimes objectifying of the heroine, Jane, but not in a way that felt gratuitous. In many ways it put me in mind of Aboriginal concepts of 'The Dreaming' and how this world is an illusion. Dreams do indeed have power.

The haiku master, Basho, is her mentor and his poetic asides add a uniquely Japanese flavour to the story as do the musings of the Daibutsu. Both of these characters give the reader a mythic and highly nuanced understanding of the many worlds that Jane comes to inhabit.

Jane's indomitability makes you want to cheer for her. She begins the story as seemingly passive and subservient, but as time goes on, the realities imposed on her by others fall away and she is free to make her own choices. Though the story zips about in time, Jane is very much the modern woman: autonomy being the key to her deepest desire. The ending is especially satisfying.

Buy this book:

Steve Searls

BlackRose 

Amazon.com

 Amazon.co.uk

Author Bio: Steve Searls retired from the practice of law in 2002 due to a rare chronic autoimmune disorder (Tumor Necrosis Factor Receptor Cell Associated Periodic Syndrome). He began writing poetry in 2001 and, using the pseudonym, Tara Birch, was the featured poet of Tryst Poetry Journal’s Premiere Issue. He’s also published numerous poems as Tara Birch in print and online, including the poetry chapbook, Carrots and Bleu Cheese Dip, in 2004.  

Steve was also active as a blogger posting under the name, Steven D, at Daily Kos (2005-2017), Booman Tribune (2005-2017) and caucus99percent (2016–present). Steve’s published essays on Medium include “Clara’s Miracle”, about his wife’s cancer and resulting traumatic brain injury from chemotherapy, and “My Rape Story”. Raised in Colorado, he now lives with his adult son in Western NY.  My Travels With a Dead Man is his first novel.

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