Recommended Reads: Downstream series by Nick Jones

Downstream

The Description

Meet Joseph Bridgeman, a reclusive insomniac with a weakness for ‘The Beatles’ on vinyl and a constant headache. When his annoying accountant suggests hypnotherapy might help him sleep, Joseph accidentally discovers he can time-travel and things get a little complicated.

With the help of Vinny, a local record shop owner, Mark, his old school friend, and Alexia Finch, his hypno-time-travel guru, Joe sets out to change the course of his life. He needs to get back to 1992, the year his world fell apart, the year that Amy, his sister, went missing. The only problem (apart from his clothes disappearing) is that the further back he goes the less time he gets to stay there.
Can Joe master his new-found gift before time catches up with him?

The Review

Joseph Bridgeman has the gift of being able to read the minds of those to whom he’s formed a relationship, but the gift is both a blessing and a curse, causing him to experience their past memories as if they are his own. Troubled by insomnia and with his life a mess, Bridgeman is persuaded to seek help from a hypnotherapist, but rather than cure him of his gift, she somehow opens up a new one, the ability to travel back in time. The question is, can Bridgeman use this gift to help solve the central mystery of his life, to find out what happened to his sister who went missing when he was a child?

The Downstream series is a really enjoyable tale, with plenty of twists and turns I’ve come to expect from Nick Jones. The central concept is an interesting one which gets explored in greater depth as the episodes progress. Jones’s writing style is a pleasure to read and I devoured the first six episodes in just couple of days and couldn’t wait to the end of August for the seventh and final episode of this series.

Time-travel stories are notoriously difficult to get right. The problem comes from the premise itself, how do you add danger and suspense into a story where the protagonist can overcome any problem simply by remembering to time travel at some point in the future to come back to the present with a solution to the issue. Jones manages to overcome this by creating rules and consequences each time our character goes back in time, so even though his control improves as the   consequences, both physically and the impact on reality, become more severe.

This is the first time I’ve read a series as it’s in progress but I found the experience a real pleasure. That said, I’ve seen the whole series is now available in one volume so if paying out per episode is not your idea of fun, you can always buy the lot in one go. If you like thoughtful, fast-paced thrillers with a time-travel twist, this is the series for you. Highly recommended.

 

To get Downstream episode 1 for free from Amazon.co.uk click here

To get Downstream episode 1 for free from from Amazon.com click here

 

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

Why Amazon deleting reviews is a price worth paying

amazon_logo

Amazon is currently cracking down on what it sees as inaccurate or reciprocal reviews and it appears, at least from recent posts I’ve read, a number of authors have been affected. Amazon are using an algorithm to identify what they term as suspect reviewing patterns, as well as identify reviewers who they believe know each other, and blocking those reviews. Once blocked, because Amazon believe the reviews broke their reviewing terms and conditions, the reviewer can no longer leave any  future reviews. When challenged, Amazon have generally given automated responses along the lines of ‘we trust our algorithms and you have no right of appeal.’

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear I have every sympathy with the individuals concerned. Writing just one thoughtful book review takes time and effort, to do it over and over again is a considerable commitment. To be told, out of the blue, that everything you’ve written will be stripped from the site, would be one hell of a shock. Then there is the underlying accusation of cheating a system, one to which the reviewer has no right of reply, and the fact that once banned they can’t write any further reviews. It is being found guilty without trial and goes against everything we know as fair. Not only is it a personal affront, it means the authors of the books reviewed lose both the review and the rating as well. If (or possibly when) it happens to me, I would be furious too.

At the same time, Amazon has a problem. Customers no longer trust their review system and in some cases with justification. If you are selling a product on Amazon (any product, not just books) there are plenty of companies willing to give favourable reviews in return for a fee. The term for this type of behaviour is astroturfing and it happens on all the major sites where customer reviews play a part in the purchase decision making process. And it’s not just companies offering this service. I’ve been approached – both explicitly and implicitly – by authors asking to swap reviews. It hasn’t happened often, and I’ve always declined, but it does happen, and if a relatively obscure author such as myself has been approached then this is clearly something that some authors are happy to take part in. Astroturfing’s not a new process, it’s been happening since the first review sites were established and is employed by many companies large and small, but it has become so common in recent years it’s got to the point where customers have lost faith in product reviews.

The one thing you need to remember about Amazon is that their number one priority is to their customers. Everything they do is focussed on providing the best service to their customers. They are very good at this, and it’s the primary reason they have become so successful. Amazon regularly top the polls for best companies by as rated by consumers because they always put customers first, so it should come as no surprise that when their customers no longer trust the review system, Amazon decide to do something about it.

The problem for Amazon is how do they identify, out of the millions of products they sell and the tens or hundreds of millions of reviews on their system, which ones are the bad reviews. There are too many to analyse by person – I worked out that if you had one hundred million reviews and 1% were seen as problematic, it would take over one hundred man years to check them all – and it’s pure cost as far as Amazon are concerned. And it’s not easy. If you look at the books I’ve highlighted as Recommended Reads, each with a corresponding review on Amazon and Goodreads, almost all are by authors I don’t know personally, one or two are by authors I’d met previously through social media, and a number are by authors I’ve since got to know on social media, often because I’ve promoted their books. A handful have gone on to review my books. I’ve always been genuine with my praise and have never requested or expected a review in return – favourable or otherwise – but there are enough connections there for some people to question the validity of my reviews, adding to their mistrust of the system.

And customers regaining trust of the review system is at the heart of what Amazon are doing. So, rightly or wrongly, Amazon have decided to cut off the leg to save the body. They are doing this across all product areas, using an algorithm to identify suspect patterns and connections, and automatically removing reviews they believe could be false, banning those accounts highlighted from generating reviews. And this means some innocents will be caught up in the process. And while that’s bad news for those affected, Amazon see it as a small price to pay compared to their customer regaining trust in reviews.

But as an author, I want people to believe in the reviews of my books. I’m lucky enough to have received some great reviews, a number of them from other authors. I’d hate to lose these reviews but if it meant readers placed more trust in those that remain then so be it. We still have the opportunity of placing those reviews in the ‘Editorial Reviews’ section of the product page, it’s just they would no longer count as part of the overall star ratings and average.

Of course, I would prefer Amazon found a better way to clean up the review system, and as mentioned earlier, I have every sympathy for those wrongly caught up in this process, but if it provides a system readers trust, that can only be of benefit to all of us.

What do you think? Do you agree with me or do you think I’m completely wrong? What are your views on what Amazon is doing, or the review system in general? I’d love to hear from you.

 

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

Recommended Reads: Occasional Soulmates by Kevin Brennan

occasional_soulmates_ebook_cover

The Description

When the thirty-eight-year-old San Francisco doctor meets her new patient, a handsome British expat with the unlikely name of Dylan Cakebread (and an uncanny resemblance to Jude Law), she’s convinced it’s the start of her own relationship novel. He’s an architect, no less — always a key piece of her most indulgent fantasies — and the heroine of a relationship novel always gets her fantasy man, right? Though their shaky start raises red flags that her oldest girlfriend, Jules, is quick to point out, Sarah can’t help it. She falls hard for Dylan and it appears to be a two-way street.

But maybe meeting your perfect mate in the exam room isn’t the best opening act. Sarah thinks she’s the cure for what ails him, but soon she learns the secret Dylan has been keeping from her. Now she has to choose between happiness and the illusion of it — if Dylan doesn’t take the choice out of her hands first.

It’s starting to look like this isn’t her relationship novel at all: it’s his.

The Review

Kevin Brennan wrote one of my favourite books I read last year, Yesterday Road, a warm-hearted tale of memory and discovery. With Occasional Soulmates, Brennan has put his own twist on the chick-lit genre, gently subverting the standard tropes while respecting the genre and its audience.

The book is written from the point of view of Sarah Phelan, a doctor who has almost given up on finding the perfect man when he arrives in her waiting room. Smart, handsome – a Jude Law look-a-like – and an architect to boot, Dylan Cakebread appears to be the man of her dreams, yet as their relationship develops Sarah learns that Dylan Cakebread isn’t the person she thought he was, in fact she realises she doesn’t really know him at all.

Written in the first person, Brennan effortlessly draws us into the mind of Dr Phelan. She’s smart, funny, engaging, but not without the odd neurosis or two, in fact the perfect protagonist for this type of tale. As she stumbled through the early awkwardness of a new relationship, I couldn’t help but warm to her. There were no false notes, no plot-led decisions – instead Brennan has built a credible and compelling story on character alone. And the support cast are equally as compelling, especially Phelan’s relationship with her mother and her sister.

In the portrayal of Dylan Cakebread, Brennan has managed to capture a particular type of english reserve very well indeed. There were a few missteps regarding slang, and his brother was probably the least rounded of all the book’s cast, but the mystery of who Dylan Cakebread really is played out very well and held my interest throughout.

Throughout the book, Brennan – through the narration of Sarah – often refers back to a the different stages of a relationship novel, and while I enjoyed the conceit it occasionally came across as a little too knowing. That said, it is a beautifully written book and I enjoyed it very much indeed.

If you are looking for an intelligent romance with a lot of heart, then this is the book for you. Recommended.

To buy Occasional Soulmates from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Occasional Soulmates from Amazon.com click here

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

Recommended Reads: Singled Out by Julie Lawford

singledout_kindle_656x1000px

Before we go into the review I need to make a few disclaimers. I’ve got to know Julie Lawford through social media and she has written some very lovely reviews of my books. Also, she beta read my second book and I beta read an early version of Singled Out. This has had no influence on my review but as a reader you I feel this is something of which you need to be aware.

That said, as anyone who has beta read a book knows, a book at that stage is a very different beast to the final product and I had a number of issues with it at the time. This meant I approached reading the finished version of Singled Out with some trepidation. Luckily, I needn’t have worried.

The Description

‘There’s something delicious about not being known, don’t you think?’

Brenda Bouverie has come on a singles holiday to Turkey to escape. Intent on indulgence, she’s looking for sun, sea and … distraction from a past she would give anything to change.

But on this singles holiday no one is quite who they seem. First impressions are unreliable and when the sun goes down, danger lies in wait. As someone targets the unwary group of strangers, one guest is alone in sensing the threat.

But who would get involved, when getting involved only ever leads to trouble?

Singled Out subverts the sunshine holiday romance, taking readers to a darker place where horrific exploits come to light, past mistakes must be accounted for and there are few happily-ever-afters.

A simmering psychological suspense laced with moral ambiguities, for fans of Louise Doughty, Sabine Durrant, Gillian Flynn, Elizabeth Haynes, S.J. Watson and Lucie Whitehouse.

The Review

In Singled Out, Lawford allows us to join a motley crew of mature singles as they head for a holiday on the Turkish coach. But as the opening scene in the book suggests, not everybody in the group are who they seem.
If you’re going on beach holiday and you’re a lover of creepy, psychological thrillers, then this is the book for you. In it, Lawford allows us to experience the full delights of a Mediterranean break, with the foods, the sights and the nightlife being described with a delightful richness to stimulate all your senses.
The characters are recognisable but not stereotypical, and with Brenda Bouverie the author has created a wonderful protagonist, very different from anybody I’ve read before. She’s wonderful combination of her the sensuous, with her love of food and drink; the steely, but with an underlying vulnerability that makes her a very special character indeed.
This is not, however, a book for the feint-hearted. The assault scenes in particular, while very well written, don’t pull any punches, but for me that’s as it should be. Horrible things should be portrayed as horrible. And it makes you all the more engaged in the search for who’s responsible.
What I loved most about this book is the exploration of moral grey areas. there is a particular dilemma that Brenda faces which you have no idea which way she will turn to almost the final page, and even then it’s difficult to tell whether the right decision was made, depending on your own viewpoint. This was very well done.
Overall, I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys their thrillers to be a little dark and edgy, but with some warmth thrown in. Oh, and foodies. This is a great book for food lovers.

To buy Singled Out from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Singled Out from Amazon.com click here

 

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

Recommended Reads: Zero Echo Shadow Prime by Peter Samet

Zreo Echo Shadow Prime

The Blurb

CONSCIOUSNESS IS IN THE CODE

The year is 2045. 18-year-old Charlie Nobunaga creates the world’s first sentient AI and becomes an overnight sensation. But amid the red carpet galas and TV interviews, Charlie is diagnosed with cancer, and her promising future grinds to a halt.

To save her life, an ambitious tech company uploads Charlie’s mind into the body of a cutting-edge robot. The procedure is a success, but with a horrifying catch. They create additional clones for their own ends.

Charlie wakes up four times as four distinct entities: a robot named PRIME, a holographic assistant named SHADOW, a mysterious four-armed killer named ECHO, and the original dying human renamed ZERO. Separated and imprisoned, each version of Charlie begins an arduous journey alone. But their paths soon intersect in surprising ways as they retaliate against the people determined to destroy them.

ZERO ECHO SHADOW PRIME is the story of one young woman who splits into four…and fights to become whole again.

The Review

For many people Science Fiction is about spaceships and the exploration of far flung planets, but to me science fiction is all about the exploration of ideas, and Zero Echo Shadow Prime is packed full of them.

Set in the very near future, a young coder creates the very first sentient AI and everybody wants a piece of her. The problem is, she’s dying of cancer. When rich industrialist father calls in a few favours and with the help of Jude Adler, CEO of the technology firm Rivir, decides to save Charlie’s life against her wishes, Charlie’s problems are only just beginning.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s packed full of ideas, exploring some of the questions around human consciousness – what makes a person who they are, what is sentience, along with some of the thornier philosophical issues around the rights of synthetic beings and who owns a copied consciousness – all wrapped up in a fast-paced thriller. The world building is very well done, providing the small elements of detail required to show what areas of society and culture have changed without resorting to pages of backstory and setup.

In Charlie Nobunaga, Samet has created an intelligent, strong-willed female lead that had real agency despite her physical limitations, who is also a fearsome four-armed killer; a holographic personal assistant and a supercharged android warrior. The fact Samet manages to flick between each point of view without causing confusion is great testament to his skill as a writer.

There were a couple of areas where I thought the book could bi improved, the Echo storyline, while interesting, felt a little superfluous and the love interest never quite came off for me, but in a book this fast moving and complex, these are just minor issues. Overall this is a great read, and if this review doesn’t persuade you to buy the book then the cover surely will.

If you are looking for a fun-filled thriller with substance and ideas, this is the book for you. Recommended.

To buy Zero Echo shadow Prime from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Zero Echo shadow Prime from Amazon.com click here

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

A Year of Paying It Forward

Pay it forward

A year ago almost to the day I had an epiphany. At the time I was spending an awful lot of effort encouraging people to buy my recently published book, Second Chance, but realised every book I’d bought myself up until that point was published by one of the major publishers. I’d not bought, or read, an indie book, yet here I was trying to persuade others to buy mine.

The reason for not buying indie wasn’t snobbery but laziness. I bought books from authors I knew. I rarely tried anything new, and it was even rarer for me to read outside of my favourite genre comfort zone. Yet I’d received lots of support from the indie writing community, both how to write and publish a book, as well as lifting me up when my spirits were down. I knew I wanted to do something to pay the community back and support my fellow writers. This was when Pay It Forward was born.

The concept was, and is, simple. I buy books from my fellow indie authors. I started with those that supported the writing community (although not necessarily me specifically), giving them a much needed sale and chart position boost. As a bonus, I would promote those books I really enjoyed on this blog as well as leaving reviews on Amazon (.com & .co.uk) and Goodreads.

In the year since I’ve bought sixty-one indie books and been given another three for free. Of those I’ve read all but seven. They have varied in genre and style from thrillers to chick-lit, cosy mysteries to literary fiction, along with a number of books from my beloved fantasy and science fiction. Most have been novels but I’ve also discovered a love for the short story form I never knew I had.

There isn’t a single book I’ve regretted purchasing.

That doesn’t mean I’ve enjoyed them all, but I know each purchase has given a boost, if just a small one, to writers who deserve it. Pay It Forward has been a wonderful experience and one I recommend for any indie author. I’ve not only enjoyed some wonderful books and broadened my reading palette, I’ve also got to know some of a number of those writers along the way and consider some of them as friends.

Out of the 54 books read, I’ve loved 32 of them enough to recommend them on this blog, which in my eyes puts paid to the nonsense that all self-published books are rubbish. In fact, as time’s gone on my criteria for recommending a book has tightened, and while I stand by every recommendation I’ve made, there are books I’ve recently read and haven’t recommended that may have made the cut when I first started this process, which shows just how good many of these books are.

The other thing that’s changed is that I now also Pay It Forward to books by supportive authors that are published via a small press as I’ve learnt in the past year that it’s just as difficult for these authors to get noticed as it is for us indies.

So if you’re an author who’s benefitted from the wonderfully supportive indie community and would like to give something back, I cannot recommend Paying It Forward enough. All you need to do to get going is purchase one book. Start with a book an author who’s supported you in some way, either directly or indirectly, and then broaden from there. Don’t be afraid to try genres you wouldn’t normally read, you might be surprised. I’m not guaranteeing you’ll enjoy every book you buy, but I’m sure there’ll be many you will, and if you do, don’t forget to let the world know.

My favourite Recommended Reads from the past year

Below are my favourite indie books from the past year. This doesn’t mean I enjoyed them more than any of the others that I’ve read but they are the ones that have somehow stuck with me and that I’ve thought of most often. I heartily recommend you give them a try.

The cover of the book Duck, showing a picture of a bomb on an orange backgroundDuck 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.”

You can buy Duck from Amazon.co.uk here and from Amazon.com here.

othellasmallerOthella by Therin Knite

“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

yesterday road small-coverYesterday Road by Kevin Brennan

“This is a beautiful book. In Yesterday Road, Brennan has created a unique tale that is warm-hearted and generous in spirit. As the story progressed it became very easy to form a bond with each of the main characters: Joe Easterhouse conveys the warmth and love like so many people with Downs Syndrome have, and Ida Peevey is the person we all hope we would be in a similar situation. But the true strength of Brennan’s writing comes is shown when we travel with Jack and see the world through his eyes. This combination of childlike wonder and regret at what he has forgotten, gives the story it’s warmth, humour and poignancy.”

To buy Yesterday Road from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Yesterday Road from Amazon.com click here

The Me You See largeThe Me You See by Shay Ray Stevens

“Stevens has successfully pieced together a compelling narrative based around the memories of Stefia’s friends and family. The timeline jumps back and forth, covering important events from Stefia’s life, each a step along the path to the opening shooting. What would be confusing in the hands of another author flows effortlessly due to Stevens’ skilful handling of both plot and characterisation. Each new character’s perspective feels real and unique, not an easy thing to do. It was very easy to become engrossed in the mystery of what happened. As new aspects of Stefia’s personality and life were revealed, I found myself racing through the pages to find out more.”

To buy The Me You See from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy The Me You See from Amazon.com click here

gzcoverfinal-smallerGreen Zulu 51 by Scott Whitmore

“Green Zulu 51 (and other stories from the Vyptellian War) is listed as a set of short stories set in a future world where one of old Earth’s colonies finds itself embroiled in a war with a relentless alien aggressor.”

“Whitmore has a wonderfully natural style, clearly bringing in a lot of his own military experience to the fore in painting the very ancient experience of life on the front line in a futuristic war. Each character has their own perspectives, are well rounded and immediately draw you into their world. While the battles (whether in space or on the ground) are well written and compelling, it is the human stories that make this book a stand out.”

To buy Green Zulu 51 from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Green Zulu 51 from Amazon.com click here

The Whisper of StarsThe Whisper of Stars by Nick Jones

“With The Whisper of Stars, Nick Jones has combined detective, espionage and near-future dystopian thriller genres to produce a cracking story that is both compelling and makes you think about the challenges we face in the future. Each chapter draws you into the world Jones has created, one that is both futuristic and very, very real, with neural implants rubbing shoulders with a night down the pub with friends. As the story progresses Jones gradually reveals a dark vision of the future, where those in power are forced to make difficult decisions which in turn become further corrupted by the desire to manipulate and control.”

To buy The Whisper of Stars from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy The Whisper of Stars from Amazon.com click here

On hearing of my mother's death six years after it happenedOn Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened by Lori Schafer

“A heart-wrenching look into life of the author, as a teenaged girl, being raised by a mother with mental illness, written plainly but beautifully, with no embellishment or self-justification. By the end you feel in awe of the author for having survived the ordeal, although as is made clear, it’s not clear if the effects of the experience have ever actually ended.”

To buy On Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy On Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened from Amazon.com click here

 

Recommended Reads: Solace by Therin Knite

Solace

I had the pleasure of reading and recommending Othella by Therin Knite last year and enjoyed it so much I joined the author’s mailing list. Earlier this year, Knite offered her mailing list a free copy of her latest book, Solace, in return for an honest review. It’s taken me a little while to get to it, but here are my thoughts. I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed.

The Blurb

Corina Marion has a father problem—namely that her Red Cross doctor of a dad has finally returned home from sixteen years of war…

…as a body in a box to be buried.

Her mother is devastated, her friends shocked and saddened, her hometown in mourning at the loss of its local hero. And Corina, indifferent to the man she never met, is trapped in the middle of an emotional onslaught she isn’t prepared to handle.

But when a strange old man confronts Corina at her father’s funeral, he offers her an impossible opportunity: the chance to know the late Luther Marion. And in a moment of uncertainty, Corina makes a choice with consequences she can barely fathom.

A choice that sends her twenty-five years into the past.

Right on the cusp of the harrowing events that will shape Luther Marion’s life…and death.

And in order to return to her damaged home, supportive friends, and uncertain future, Corina will have to fight tooth and nail alongside the man she’s resented her entire life. Because if she doesn’t help fix the past she’s inadvertently changed with her presence, Luther Marion may not live long enough to become a hero at all.

The Review

Corina is a tough, independent teenager. She’s had to be. Her doctor father left before she was born to save lives in a never-ending war on the other side of the world, leaving just her and her mother waiting for him to return. But when he does, it’s in a box. Angry at what’s happened, and the reverence in which her father she’s never known is held, she tries to escape the cloying atmosphere at her father’s funeral, only to meet a mysterious man who offers her the chance to know what her father was really like. Corina agrees, and before she know’s it she’s being rescued from a canal 25 years in the past – by the man who became her father.

Solace is a well-written, hard hitting YA coming of age story set in an alternate version of our future. It’s a modern take on the Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, but instead of our protagonist following her own life, she gets to follow the life of her absent father.

Therin Knite has a great writing style, and it didn’t take me long to be sucked into the story. The opening scenes are about as tough as I’ve read in my (admittedly sparse) experience of YA novels and set the tone for the rest of the book, introducing us to the harsh world in which the tough, loyal and driven Corina lives. It’s a dark but well realised vision of our future, with America almost on its knees due to the effects of an ongoing war against China. Yet almost as soon as we’re introduced to this world we’re taken out of it as Corina is sent back in time on a journey to discover the real person behind her father’s heroic image. The only rule, is she’s not allowed to turn him away from the life he is going to lead.

At the heart of the story is the relationship between the abandoned daughter and the absent father. As they journey together through some of the defining moments of her father’s life, the two of them form a bond which never existed in real life as they each learn about the other. But throughout the book the joy of a daughter learning about her father is tempered by the knowledge of where that journey’s heading.

I really enjoyed both the concept behind this story and found Knite’s stripped-down writing sharp and very engaging. The characters were well-rounded and believable, the settings realistic, and I devoured it in just a few days. The only issue I had with the book was that there were a few occasions where the dialogue appeared forced, with some conversations used as a means to explain or advance the plot (in the hospital, for example), but they probably stood out because of the high quality work in what is yet another strong novel by Therin Knite. If you like gripping, near-future thrillers with strong female protagonists, this is the book for you. Highly recommended.

To buy Solace from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Solace from Amazon.com click here

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

Recommended Reads: On Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened by Lori Schafer

On hearing of my mother's death six years after it happened

At the beginning of the year I took on a reading challenge, and I asked people for their suggestions on indie books they’ve enjoyed reading. The only rules were that you couldn’t suggest more than one (like that stopped you) and you couldn’t promote your own book. The post had a great response (and I’m still looking for more, so if you have any suggestions, please let me know). One of the books suggested was today’s recommended read, the memoir On Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened by Lori Schafer.

The Blurb

It was the spring of 1989. I was sixteen years old, a junior in high school and an honors student. I had what every teenager wants: a stable family, a nice home in the suburbs, a great group of friends, big plans for my future, and no reason to believe that any of that would ever change.

Then came my mother’s psychosis.

I experienced first-hand the terror of watching someone I loved transform into a monster, the terror of discovering that I was to be her primary victim. For years I’ve lived with the sadness of knowing that she, too, was a helpless victim – a victim of a terrible disease that consumed and destroyed the strong and caring woman I had once called Mom.

My mother’s illness took everything. My family, my home, my friends, my future. A year and a half later I would be living alone on the street on the other side of the country, wondering whether I could even survive on my own.

But I did. That was how my mother – my real mother – raised me. To survive.

She, too, was a survivor. It wasn’t until last year that I learned that she had died – in 2007. No one will ever know her side of the story now. But perhaps, at last, it’s time for me to tell mine.

The Review

I don’t usually read memoirs. The ones I have, usually celebrity memoirs, come across as self-indulgent, glossing over darker aspects of their personalities (except the ones they are happy to promote) and promoting their virtues. You certainly couldn’t say that for On Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened. This is a heart-wrenching look into life of the author, as a teenaged girl, being raised by a mother with mental illness, written plainly but beautifully, with no embellishment or self-justification. By the end you feel in awe of the author for having survived the ordeal, although as is made clear, it’s not clear if the effects of the experience have ever actually ended.

The book isn’t written chronologically because the author struggles to remember what happened in what order. There are some passages that have been written as fiction because after all these years it’s the only way she convey the feeling of what happened effectively. While some may find this off-putting, to me these stylistic tics only gave added weight to what I was reading.

The memoir itself is short, I read it in a day, but that breath gives it added punch. I can only applaud Lori Schafer for having the courage to write something so personal, so honestly. It’s a book that will stay with me a long time. Highly Recommended.

To buy On Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy On Hearing Of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened from Amazon.com click here

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

To All Book Reviewers – A Thank You

Thank you

Writing book reviews is tough. It doesn’t matter whether it is a couple of lines and a rating, or a well thought out essay, it takes effort for a reviewer to translate all the emotions and experiences they’ve just felt and translate it into something concise, considered and heartfelt. Many authors complain about how difficult it is to write a plot synopsis or promotional blurb, but it can be just as difficult for reviewers to condense everything they’ve experienced, complete with explanation and reasoning, into a few paragraphs. And then there is the worry about the reaction. Every author understands the anxiety of letting their work go, wondering if people will love or hate what they’ve written, but it is exactly the same for a reviewer, especially if they didn’t enjoy the work they are reviewing.

Some, lucky few, get paid to review books, but most book reviewers do it for free. And this is important for authors to remember. The vast majority of reviews are written out of a love of books.

For indie authors especially, reviews are our lifeblood. Without reviews, nobody would know we exist. Without reviews, few would take a chance on an unknown author regardless of how tempting the blurb or cover. Yet we often view reviews as an item to attain, rather than the end product of an experience. We understand the value of having multiple reviews next to our books and sometimes struggle – in our desire to obtain more – to remember that what we are really asking is for our readers to share their personal, intimate feelings to the world, readers who often have no idea where to start when it comes to writing a review.

And then there are the small number of authors who make reviewing a chore, or even worse a trial. Those authors who pester reviewers, believing reviews should be theirs by right because they have published a book. The authors who see a critique of their work as an attack on them as a person. Negative reviews can be painful but they come with the territory because nobody has written a universally popular book. Those authors who go to extreme lengths to defend their book after a bad review, their actions preventing many from posting negative reviews for fear of retribution, destroying the credibility of the review system on which the majority of us rely.

Some counter this by complaining about trolling, negative reviews written out of spite, complaining they unfairly skew a book’s rating. But these, while incredibly hurtful, aren’t common, and are balanced by the overly favourable reviews by friends in their desire to help an author out – and I’ve yet to hear an author complain about those.

The vast majority of book reviews reflect a reviewer’s honest reaction having read a book. It is the truth. A truth that is just as valid as the truth the author intended when they wrote their book. In fact it is possibly more true, because as authors we know that as much as we try, we can never truly convey the full experience we see in our heads through mere words. What the reviewer experiences, as every reader, is how well we’ve managed to do that, all through the own personal lens of what makes a good book. We don’t have to agree with the reviewer but we should always respect their opinion.

So, to anyone who reads this who has ever written a review, I thank you.

To every person who has written a glowing review, I thank you.

To anyone who took the time to write a review about a book that neither moved or disappointed them, I thank you.

To everyone who has written a review that contains criticism, whether you were pointing out small issues in a book you enjoyed, or major failings, I thank you.

To every person who has written a review to explain exactly why you detested a book, I thank you.

To everybody who overcame their discomfort and wrote a couple of lines on Amazon or Goodreads after reading a book, I thank you.

To the people who write reviews each time they finish a book, I thank you.

To the person who just wrote their first ever review, I thank you.

To authors who take the time to read and review the work of their peers, especially those who write both positive and negative reviews, overcoming their own fears of revenge reviews, I thank you.

To those who run magazines, e-zines and anyone else who gets paid to review books and promote the art you love, I thank you.

And finally, to book bloggers, who invest so much of their time to write about the thing they love, often despite experiencing the less attractive side of our industry through authors demanding a review or reacting furiously to a negative review, I thank you.

 

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Recommended Reads: The Embers of Hope by Nick Jones

Embers of Hope

The Embers of Hope is the second book in the Hibernation series. You can read my review of the first, The Whisper of Stars, here. Warning: this review contains spoilers for the Whisper of Stars, so if you don’t wish to know how that ends, stop reading now.

The Blurb

After narrowly escaping the Shiryaevo Vault, Nathan O’Brien is on the run, adapting to life without Jennifer Logan. In his possession: a powerful mind control device known as the Histeridae and evidence of the Hibernation Program’s true agenda.

Beginning with George Mohanty and his words ‘Death is a relative term’, he must unravel the mystery of the Histeridae. But Nathan is on borrowed time, trapped inside a body that was never supposed to last. Can he bring back the woman he loves and expose the truth before it’s too late, or will the past finally catch up with him?

From the mountains of India to the futuristic streets of London and Dubai, The Embers of Hope is the thrilling second instalment in the Hibernation saga.

It features conspiracy theories, romance and intrigue and is set in a dystopian world, making it an ideal read for any fans of the sci-fi genre and also suitable for a young adult audience.

The Review

In The Embers of Hope we follow Nathan O’Brien, paranoid, alone and grieving following the death of Jennifer Logan. He is still living with George Mohanty, the only person he knows who has any knowledge of the Histeridae. Haunted by the phrase “death is relative” he finally gets George to talk, revealing that it wasn’t him who said the words, but somebody called Victor Reyland. But Reyland is a dangerous man, the man behind the Histeridae programme, a man happy to sacrifice others to meet his goals. Can this man help O’Brien bring back Jennifer?

While The Embers of Hope carries on directly from the excellent, The Whisper of Stars, it is a slightly different book. The pace is a little slower, a little more introspective, matching the more considered approach of Nathan O’Brien as he undertakes his task. Where action was high on the agenda of its precursor, in The Embers of Hope, intrigue takes centre stage. We get to learn more about the history behind the Histeridae, and how Jennifer Logan became caught up in the conspiracy. At the same time we learn more about the reason the Histeridae is so important, and a secret that affects the future of humanity.

I really enjoyed this book. While the action levels were reduced, I still found myself racing through the book as Jones expertly revealed the truth behind everything with a steady drip of information. At the start I worried that O’Brien on his own wouldn’t be a strong enough character to carry the novel, but Jones manages this cleverly through the introduction of new characters as well as fleshing out those familiar from The Whisper of Stars. This was especially well done with Zido Zitagi, whose world becomes ever less certain the more she learns about her organisation’s purpose. And while the ending is naturally open ended, there was enough closure to keep me satisfied. I just can’t wait to find out what happens next.

If you enjoy near-future, dystopian thrillers, you should definitely read this excellent series. Highly Recommended.

To buy The Embers of Hope from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy The Embers of Hope from Amazon.com click here

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.