Book review: Burning Crowe by Geoff Smith

About Burning Crowe

Two teenagers, both alike in indignity. Will they be civil? Or will there be blood?

Bartholomew Crowe is 18 years old. His dad dead, and deserted by his stepmother, he’s running seriously low on justice. And when he is hired to find a rich kid gone AWOL, it isn’t just a job; it’s a chance to do good, a chance to fix things up, to make things right.

Handsome and loaded, Zack Richards has it all. A beautiful girlfriend. A burgeoning sideline in music management. Hell, he’s even semi-famous! But for all his good fortune, Zack Richards is angry. He’s addicted to trouble. And he’s gone into hiding.

But Bart isn’t the only one with Zack in his sights.

And as tensions rise and bullets fly, Bartholomew Crowe learns that the only things he can count on are friendship, and love.

My Thoughts

Burning Crowe is one of those thrillers that is impossible to put down. Smith draws the reader into the dark underworld of Margate and Ramsgate, two coastal towns in Kent, England – all sandy beaches and fun parks on the pier –  that were once primary holiday destinations for Londoners, and later infamous for gang violence. The author takes his readers into clubs and pubs and squats and cheap hotels, on the waterfront, the beaches, the arcade and there’s even a fabulous scene in the Turner Gallery. I enjoyed this realistic backdrop; Smith’s portrayal of these towns, through the youthful eyes of his protagonist, is well-executed and appropriately noir.

Smith’s private investigator is as unlikely as it gets, an eighteen year old not yet out of school, setting off on his first case, his solution to all the hurt he is feeling after the death of his father and his step mother’s apparent rejection. This is not a criticism; Bartholomew Crowe is a well-rounded and thoroughly endearing if hapless PI, bumbling and stumbling along, the most ineffectual hero, yet a hero turns out to be.

Smith deploys all the elements of a really good thriller, the twists and turns of the plot as the various players reveal their hand in a slow game of bluff, deceit and lies, play out convincingly. The pacing is good, the characters sharply defined. I particularly enjoyed the exchange of emails between Crowe and his granddad and seeing how that played out in the end. Satisfying complex, Burning Crowe is in essence a coming of age tale of love and relationships and the tensions in blended families. It is also a story of malice and greed and vengeance. This novel held my attention the the very end.

Find Burning Crowe here

 

Isobel Blackthorn is a prolific novelist of unique and engaging fiction. She writes dark psychological thrillers, mysteries, and contemporary and literary fiction. On the dark side are Twerk, The Cabin Sessions and The Legacy of Old Gran Parks. Her Canary Islands’ collection begins with The Drago Tree and includes A Matter of Latitude and Clarissa’s Warning. Her interest in the occult is explored in The Unlikely Occultist: A biographical novel of Alice A. Bailey and the dark mystery A Perfect Square. Even her first novel, Asylum, contains a touch of the magical. Isobel is at work on her fourth Canary Islands’ novel, a sweeping historical work based on her own family history. You can find her novels here on her website.

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Book review: The Pale by Clare Rhoden

About The Pale

The Outside can be a dangerous place.

But so can the inside.

It’s been years since the original cataclysm, but life has been structured, peaceful, and most of all uneventful in the Pale. The humachine citizens welcome the order provided by their ruler, the baleful Regent.

However, when one of their own rescues a human boy, Hector, from ravenous ferals on the Outside, their careful systems are turned upside down.

As Hector grows more and more human-strange, the citizens of the Pale grow uneasy.

What will happen when the Outside tries to get in?

My Thoughts

The Pale is science fiction set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia. Amid the destitution of the Broad Plain, the Pale itself is a policosmos, a walled colony ruled by a tyrannical Regent and filled with humachines – machine-augmented humans not known for their empathy. Tad, a humachine that cares a little too much, lets in a human child, Hector, when he arrives at the Pale’s gate. Outside, the caninis struggle to survive after a devastating earthquake destroys their habitat. The tribes and the Settlement also struggle for survival. Four groups, four distinct societal structures. What unfolds is a tightly woven plot that centres around a struggle for survival in the harshest of conditions.

Rhoden demonstrates tremendous descriptive powers and impressive world building, The Pale reminiscent of the intelligent science fiction novels of old. I am reminded of my favourite science fiction author, Phillip K. Dick. The Pale is filled with well-crafted and engaging characters – including dogs –  in what amounts to a classy read with an important moral message, making the reader question where we are heading and whose side we are on and what it means to be fully human. Add to this an elegant writing style which makes The Pale accessible to teens and adults alike, and I imagine it won’t be too long before this novel catches on big time.

The allegorical aspect of The Pale provides much fodder for contemplation in today’s pre-apocalyptic climate change reality, something all good high school teachers should relish were they to lay their hands on copies for their classrooms. In all, Rhoden has penned a feast for the speculative fiction aficionado.

 

Find your copy of The Pale on Amazon

Author Website

 

Author & Book Alert: A Matter of Latitude by Isobel Blackthorn

Here’s my interview with the delightful James J. Cudney, in which I talk about writing, of course…

This Is My Truth Now

Isobel Blackthorn and her novel, A Matter of Latitude, because it has an upcoming discount that you need to know about. Isobel is an author at Creativia Pub / Next Chapter Pub, the same place where I am published. I’ve previously read one of her novels, Clarissa’s Warning, and you can click the link to see my 5-star review of this excellent drama about what happens to a woman on the Canary Islands. If you’re interested in A Matter of Latitude, you can purchase it via Amazon here.

A Matter of Latitude is .99 cents from July 16th through 20th. I just bought a copy… who wants to buddy read with me this week?

From the acclaimed author of The Drago Tree comes a riveting thriller about survival, revenge and long-hidden secrets.

When Lanzarote anti-corruption activist Celestino is T-boned on a lonely road, he knows the collision was…

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Book review: Pigeon Blood Red by Ed Duncan

About Pigeon Blood Red

For underworld enforcer Richard “Rico” Sanders, it seemed like an ordinary job: retrieve his gangster boss’s priceless ruby necklace and teach the double-dealing cheat who stole it a lesson. A job like a hundred before it.
But the chase quickly goes sideways and takes Rico from the mean streets of Chicago to sunny Honolulu. There, the hardened hit man finds himself in uncharted territory, when innocent bystanders are accidentally embroiled in a crime.

As Rico pursues his new targets, hunter and prey develop an unlikely respect for one another, and Rico is faced with a momentous decision: follow his orders to kill the couple whose courage and character have won his admiration, or refuse and endanger the life of the woman he loves?

About Ed Duncan

My Thoughts

What a treat it is to read a fast-paced hard-edged thriller when you know the author is in complete control and will take you to that point of release at the end, the literary climax, that vital point in any novel, but especially in a thriller. Duncan is a commanding writer who toys with his readers as all good thriller writers should. The author knows how to squeeze a story through a pin prick in a dam wall, the story unfolding in tantalisingly measured steps, the hallmark of great thriller writing.

Meet shady Rico and his side-kick Jerry, the corpulent and vile underworld figure, Frank Litvak, and a very expensive necklace. When hapless store owner and womanising drunk, Robert, snatches the necklace off the backseat of Rico’s car, he has no idea what he is letting himself in for. Then there’s Robert’s wife, Evelyn, her friend, Rachel, and her old lover, Paul. A small collection of main characters and at first it is hard to know where to place your sympathies, except for Litvak! There’s a slow build, the sense of the threads intersecting without knowing how, the added complexities along the way. A portrait of Chicago, then Duncan takes the story to Honolulu, as the necklace itself takes up stage centre. 

Tightly plotted and cleverly told, Pigeon Blood Red has a gritty noir feel and the prose is crisp and clean and laced with a sharp wit. The characters are well-crafted and believable. The reader is given a bird’s eye view, adding to the tension. The twists continue right to the end, which does not disappoint. Shining through Pigeon Blood Red is the narrative voice, a voice I can hear, a voice that resonates in tune with the story. To being with, I could see Pigeon Blood Red would make a great movie and about three quarters in, all the way to the last page I was still thinking that. Highly recommended.

Find Pigeon Blood Red on Amazon

************

About Me

For those new to me, I am a prolific novelist of unique and engaging fiction. I write dark psychological thrillers, mysteries, and contemporary and literary fiction. On the dark side are Twerk, The Cabin Sessions and The Legacy of Old Gran Parks. My Canary Islands’ collection begins with The Drago Tree and includes A Matter of Latitude and Clarissa’s Warning. My interest in the occult is explored in The Unlikely Occultist: A biographical novel of Alice A. Bailey and the dark mystery A Perfect Square. I am at work on my fourth Canary Islands’ novel, a sweeping historical work based on her own family history.

 

Celebrating Odyssey Books Ten Year Milestone with a Special Discount of A Perfect Square

Celebrating the Tenth Anniversary of Odyssey Books with a Special Discount of A Perfect Square

Odyssey Books have been going since 2009. They are a terrific little press, punching above their weight, with an impressive list of authors and high calibre titles. I joined the small press in 2015 when Odyssey Books released my first two novels, Asylum and The Drago Tree. In 2016, they published my third novel, A Perfect Square. This weekend, Odyssey Books are having a special sale of A Perfect Square to celebrate their anniversary! (check out the other titles they have on offer in July)

ABOUT A PERFECT SQUARE

Across two continents, two sets of mothers and daughters are bound by a dark mystery.

On a winter’s day in the Dandenongs, Victoria, pianist Ginny returns home to stay with her eccentric mother and artist, Harriet. Consumed by disturbing dreams, speculations and remembering, she tries to prise from her mother the truth concerning her father’s disappearance and why, when she was seven, Harriet abducted her. In an effort to distract her daughter’s interrogations, Harriet proposes they collaborate on an exhibition of paintings and songs.

Meanwhile, on the edge of Dartmoor, Judith paints landscapes of the Australian Outback to soothe her troubled mind. Her wayward daughter, Madeleine, has returned home and she’s filled the house with darkness. Her father doesn’t want to know her. Judith wishes he did. When at last she forces the two to meet she breathes a sigh of relief.

Back in Australia, Ginny is poised to fly to England in search of the truth when she receives some earth-shattering news.

A novel brimming with mystery, intrigue, creativity, art and the occult.

 

ONLY $0.99 on Kindle viewbook.at/PerfectSquare

 

A Very Special Review of A Perfect Square

About forty five minutes by car to the east of Melbourne brings you to the Dandenongs. A small mountain range strewn with a magical semi-tropical rainforest, full of tall mountain ash, giant tree ferns and crystal trickling creeks.  Mast Gully was so named by an old sailing captain, in the days of the first settlers, who said the tall straight trees reminded him of nothing so much as a forest of ships masts. The area has attracted artists and musicians since its very earliest days, the painter Tom Roberts used to live and paint here, and William Ricketts of the famous sanctuary in Olinda, used to be a jazz clarinettist. A bustling, vibrant, ever-changing colony of artistic types has inhabited the hills, gullies and quaint little towns ever since.

It is in this idyllic setting that Isobel Blackthorn has placed ‘A Perfect Square’. At the heart of this delightful tale is an artistic collaboration between Harriet, a somewhat neurotic painter with a hidden past, and her daughter Ginny, a musician with deep questions about her absent father. At the same time far across the sea on the moors of Dorset, England, another mother daughter relationship is being played out by Judith and her daughter Madeleine. Judith too, is a painter, also wrestling with her work and her past and her relationships. The two stories play as counterpoint to each other, as the story ducks and weaves around Astrology, Art history, music, occultism and the power of a past, not fully come to terms with, to invade and choke the present.  As the two girls become unhappier, winter approaches, the gallery presentation comes nearer, and the story itself begins to become darker before finally resolving in very surprising ways.

There is more than a touch of ‘AbFab’ about the relationships between some of the characters, and as someone with more than a passing acquaintanceship with the Dandenongs, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed spending time with them all. I have known these people, gone to their homes and eaten their food and drunk their wine, far into the evening. Musicians and practitioners of the static Arts will find much to interest them in this story as both subjects are not merely touched upon but form an integral part of the structure of this tale.

In a case of ‘life imitating Art’ or ‘Art imitating life’, the authors own daughter has contributed musical works that echo the collaboration in the story, and these are also available to the reader through web links at the back of the book?

I was somewhat hesitant approaching ‘A Perfect Square’ as something seemed to be saying that it might have been a little too serious for my mood. I could not have been more wrong.  I heartily recommend this to anyone who likes fascinating and believable characters, well drawn settings and just enough mystery to keep the whole thing bubbling along nicely. The sort of book you almost want to start reading again, the moment you have finished it, and I have to confess, I enjoyed it immensely…

– Film and Book Critic, Philip A. Wallis.

Accompanying music by jazz pianist and composer Elizabeth Blackthorn:

https://elizabethblackthorn.bandcamp.com/album/a-perfect-square

https://open.spotify.com/album/6BWFjoq8tuvyrg7w9FYjUC

https://music.apple.com/us/album/a-perfect-square-ep/1149154120

Book Review: Persian Letters by Mehrdad Rafiee

 

About Persian Letters

Mehrdad Rafiee grew up in Iran at a time of constant change. Born in 1950 in Abadan, as the oil industry was being d nationalised, he went to high school in Kazeroun during the White Revolution of 1963, and attended university in Tehran in the years of social upheaval that led to the Islamic Revolution. This memoir is written in the form of letters addressed to his sons. Mehrdad tells his life story, with diversions into Persian/Iranian history and politics, drawing parallels between the turmoil in his country and that in his life. In writing his memoirs, Mehrdad was inspired by the books of two very special writers: Orhan Pamuk’s “Istanbul: Memories and the City”, and Azar Nafisi’s “Things I’ve Been Silent About”. For anyone familiar with modern Iran, this book will inform and entertain, as it explains much that lies behind the changes and the culture of Iran and its people. Mehrdad has lived in Australia since 1985.

My Thoughts

As I began reading Persian Letters I asked myself what I knew about Iran. I am embarrassed to admit not a huge amount. I have a sense of Persia, I have read some Rumi, I have found the Iranian people I have met to be warm and gracious. I know it is a large country with its share of desert. Of course, we in the west who are of any decent age would have heard of the Shah and the revolution and Ayatollah Khomeini. And no one with any education can talk of Iran without knowing some of its history with oil. And yes, it is a Shi’ite Muslim nation.

There you have it, the summation of my knowledge prior to reading Rafiee’s book.

Now, I know a lot more, and I have received the perfect form of education, provided in a clear and well written fashion, seeing through the eyes of a man reflecting back on his childhood and his teenage years, and then as an adult before leaving the country of his birth in the early 1980s. Persian Letters is a memoir written as a series of letters to the author’s sons. The reader is gifted a window on an intimate world, a secret world almost, in what is an intriguing and engaging read. Honesty, integrity, the laying bare of family history, customs, and above all the Iranian people’s struggle with change, shine through the pages.

Persian Letters is a Persian tale, not a tale of Islamic culture, but of the ancient culture beneath, rooted in Zoroastrianism. Politics, history, customs and traditions, society, the economy, the entire fabric of Iranian life is woven into a series of entertaining vignettes. I especially enjoyed the gentle irony and some of the subtly critical observations. And the intermingling families, village life, the making of tea!

Rafiee has a unique perspective, largely due to his father’s propensity for change. Rafiee grew up in the privileged enclave of Abadan, an island in Iran’s southwest, almost bordering Kuwait, where thanks to British Petroleum western services were in abundance. So much for the generous British, who had effectively stolen the rights to the oil they extracted from an obliging Iran! Then Refiee’s dad ups sticks and relocates the family to a poor part of southern Iran to battle as a farmer. The narrative also takes in Shiraz and Tehran in what can only be described a feast for the ignorant, and a must read for most of us.

There are footnotes explaining some of the words and providing brief bios of some of the cameo characters. There is just so much to relish in this rather long read. Refiee has given the world a rich tapestry of Persian culture, and a rare insight into the motivations and complexities of a country we hear too little of other than in the negative. Through Refiee’s eyes, the reader is presented with a sharing, giving culture rooted in ancient past, a people resistant to change, and the inevitable struggles of modernisation that ensue. What better way is there to embrace difference than through reading a book such as this. I commend the author for making the effort to write down his story and give it to the world.

Grab your copy here

Book review: No Room for Regret by Janeen Ann O’Connell

About No Room for Regret

London, 1811

Chained below deck, 18-year-old James Tedder listens to the sobs of his fellow prisoners. Putting his hand over his nose to filter the vile smells, James wonders how life on the other side of the world could ever be worth living.

London, 1812

Sarah Blay watches the convict ship Indefatigable begin its voyage to the other side of the world with her husband, and his friend James Tedder, on board. One year later, Sarah bundles up her three small sons and says a final goodbye to her mother, and follows her husband to Van Diemen’s Land on a dangerous journey that will take fourteen long months.

Will Sarah regret her decision, and will any of them survive?

My Thoughts

Opening No Room for Regret the reader is grabbed by the collar and thrust into the worlds of twin protagonists James Tedder and James Blay as they are both arrested, charged and transported as convicts to Hobart Town, Tasmania, Australia. Tedder leaves behind his family of origin; Blay leaves his wife, Sarah, and their three sons. After a terrible voyage lasting many months, the men arrive and face some early tribulations, but then both find good fortune in securing positions away from the chain gangs. Tedder works in the stores and Blay for a former convict, James Cullen, on his farm in New Norfolk. What unfolds as these two men serve their sentences is a heartwarming and heartbreaking tale of families intertwining, of convicts gaining their freedom and adjusting to life in a new and strange world filled with curious animals and birds. It is a tale of resilience, survival and common humanity. There are a few antagonists along the way to keep up the tension and the drama, including the despicable Toothless, a convict guard out on a lifelong vendetta to harm Tedder.

Filled with charming characters and well-crafted descriptions, this story flows at a good clip. Above all, O’Connell provides a rich historical overview of the early settlement of Australia, prefacing her chapters with snippets of factual information which add important insights into the plight of the convicts and renders No Room for Regret both entertaining and educational.

The perennial challenge for historical and especially family history novels is grabbing readers from the outset and keeping them absorbed. O’Connell manages both with aplomb, the narration taut and gripping and laced with uncompromising realism. The result is a compelling read that is impossible to put down. No Room for Regret is a fictionalised family history novel of the highest calibre.