It’s been four months since I wrote my original Pay It Forward post. For those unaware, I came to the realisation that I only bought books from traditional publishers and decided it was time to support my fellow self-published authors by buying their books and promoting those that I enjoyed both on this blog and through leaving reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.
Since the original post I’ve bought over 20 books from self-published authors in a wide variety of genres and styles. This sounds like a lot of investment but it only cost me a little more than the equivalent cost of one traditionally published book per month. As with any selection of books there were some that didn’t work for me (although I am sure they would be liked by other readers), but I have been pleasantly surprised by just how many I have enjoyed, including a new-found love for the short story format. The only downside is the number of books sitting on my ever-growing ‘to be read’ list.
Below is a summary of those books I have enjoyed to date, with a links on how to purchase. Please give them a try, you won’t be disappointed. And if you are a self-published author, if you aren’t doing it already, I encourage you to support your fellow authors in a similar way. I think you’ll also be pleasantly surprised.
Duck by Stephen Parolini
Duck is a short story about Thomas Lingonberry, a young boy growing up in 1950’s USA who’s life changes when a bomb lands on his desk. We follow Thomas on his journey of love and discovery, as the fallout from that day resonates through. It is a wonderful and warmly written coming-of-age tale. Stephen Parolini draws you into a world which while alien to someone of my age and nationality was also strangely familiar. He brings to life beautifully the memory of young love and my only complaint was that it ended. Highly recommended.
The Prying Game by David Palin
If you found an old post-it note in a bush with a telephone number on it, would you call it? That’s the opening premise of The Prying Game, a wonderfully written novella by David Palin. It’s dark, erotic psychological thriller that twists and turns in unexpected ways. If you are looking for an intelligent page-turner with genuine surprises then this is the book for you.
The Seneca Scourge by Carrie Rubin
The Seneca Scourge is a great, fast-paced medical thriller, with a twist. The heroine, Dr Sydney McKnight, is asked to work with the eccentric Dr Casper Jones to fight what looks to be an deadly outbreak of a previously benign form of influenza. As the situation deteriorates, the behaviour of her partner raises different, more serious concerns.
I really enjoyed this book. It was a well written, easy read with characters you believed in and a plot that kept you guessing to the last. I was concerned to start off with with the amount of medical terminology but I needn’t have been; Rubin explained things in a way that any layman could understand. There is a point halfway through the book where the story takes a very different turn from the usual medical thriller but I urge you to go with it, because you will be well rewarded. Highly recommended.
Ravens Gathering by Graeme Cumming
I really enjoyed Ravens Gathering. Graeme Cumming captures perfectly life in a close-nit hamlet. When one of their own returns, strange things start to happen and it is the newcomer and outsiders that shoulder the blame, at least at first.
From the insular outlook, mistrust of outsiders and the ongoing friction between locals; everything has an air of authenticity about it. History weighs heavily on all, and it’s only during the second half of the book that you truly begin to understand why.
While the writing style is straightforward, Cumming likes to play tricks on his readers, meaning passages you thought you understood are revealed to have a different meaning later on. If, like me, you enjoy piecing a story together as you read and having your initial expectations confounded, you’ll enjoy Ravens Gathering.
Moondust Memories by Vaughn Stanger
This is a great collection of speculative fiction short stories. Stanger shows his breadth of range, moving from alternate history to pure science fiction whilst keeping us entertained with a range of interesting, well-rounded characters and scenarios. Whether writing about an alternate version of Mallory’s tragic attempt on Everest, alien first contact or the all to real possible ending had the cuban missile crisis ended differently; Stanger brings warmth and humanity to each story, allowing us to view the various what ifs and possibilities at a very personal level.
The tell-tale sign of great speculative fiction is that you are still thinking about it days after you finish reading. This has been the case for me with Moondust Memories. Highly recommended.
Identity Part 1 by Claire Duffy
This wonderfully dark & complex nordic thriller comes with plenty of twists and turns. Don’t be fooled by the “part 1”, this is a self-contained story with a satisfying conclusion. However, if you like your stories to follow a comfortable, predictable path where you know where you are at all times then this book is not for you. The narrative is split between a number of charter’s viewpoints and location. This can be confusing at first because other than a page break there is no indication of you moving from one scene to the next, however don’t be put off. Once you become used to the structure the story unfolds at a rapid pace and you will be rewarded by a gripping tale where your gradually built assumptions are continually pulled out from under you.
The writing style can be a little rough around the edges at times, especially early on, but one of the pleasures I gained while reading the story was to see Duffy’s confidence develop as the book progressed. All in all a really enjoyable mystery and I can’t wait to find out what she has in store for us in part 2. Recommended.
The New Mrs D by Heather Hill
It’s safe to say I’m not the target demographic for The new Mrs D but that didn’t stop me from really enjoying the book. In it we follow the eponymous Mrs D. as she embarks on what she thinks is the start of her honeymoon but soon becomes a voyage of self-discovery. While I may not have been able to relate to the main character directly myself, I know a number of people that share some of her characteristics and it didn’t take long to get sucked into her adventures. While reading I smiled a lot, even laughing out loud on occasion.
The book generally has the light touch but Hill isn’t afraid to explore some tougher themes in an open and honest way. For the most part, though, it stays true to its roots – a good, light-hearted comedy. Yes, the plot is heavily signposted at times, there are one or two clichéd characters and the story occasionally strays into the area of cheese, but this is cheese in a good way, like Dirty Dancing or Abba Gold. If you enjoyed Bridget Jones or Shirley Valentine then this is the ideal holiday read for you. Highly recommended.
Contract of Defiance by Tammy Salyer
Contract of Defiance is a blast from the opening paragraph to the closing page. We follow the story of Aly, a smuggler and ex-military fugitive who becomes separated from her brother and crew on a botched job. She is rescued by a group of hardened settlers and becomes embroiled in a series of adventures that take her further from her goal of rescuing her brother and at the same time raises questions about what really went wrong.
Salyer has created a very believable future where a dominant military forces good people onto the wrong side of the law. While the story contains plenty of action to keep things going, it is the characters that draw you in. In Aly you have a strong, female protagonist who is no caricature. She is flawed, makes mistakes but continues to struggle against what life throws at her in order to save her brother.
As the motivations of the support cast are revealed, you realise what a fantastic job Salyer has done to create an ensemble of characters of real depth while at no point slowing the plot through overuse of back story or exposition. Another thing I really liked about this book was that each act of killing has an impact on the characters involved and isn’t purely there as entertainment. There are consequences for each and every action and Salyer isn’t afraid to show them.
If you like the fantasy of Joe Abercrombie or Glen Cook, or if you are a fan of the film Aliens, you will love this really enjoyable book. Highly recommended.
Since writing this review I’ve also read the follow up books in the series – Contract of Betrayal and Contract of War – both of which maintain the excellent standard of the first.
Othella: Arcadian Heights #1 by Therin Knite
What a fantastic read. It is 60 years in the future and civilisation is close to collapse. To save the world, hard decisions need to be taken. The best scientists are brought to Arcadian Heights – a purpose-built oasis in this crumbling world – with one goal: to develop technologies to avert disaster. But how far do you go before those trying save humanity end up losing theirs?
The book is written from the point-of-view of three main characters: Quentin – a spokesman for Arcadian Heights, Georgette McClain – a hard-nosed investigative reporter, and Marco Salt; each tied to what is happening in Arcadian Heights for reasons that become clear as the book progresses. The first two-thirds of the book switch not just between the different character’s points of view but also varying timelines, so I would recommend you pay attention. However, this structure worked perfectly to draw me into the world and lives Knite created.
This book works on two levels. On the one hand it is a fast-paced, science-fiction thriller, on the other a treatise on the moral grey area of the good of the whole over the good of the individual. Knite’s writing style is tight, hard-edged and uncompromising; as if Raymond Chandler decided to have a go at re-imagining Hunger Games. I was hooked from first page to the brutal finale.
I’ve read and enjoyed many self-published novels but this is the first one I wish I’d written. I cannot wait for its sequel.
Othella by Therin Knite is available from all major ebook retailers. To buy click here