Book review: The Villagers by A.J. Griffiths-Jones

I’m delighted to share my review of A. J. Griffith-Jone’s The Villagers.

The Villagers A.J. Griffiths-Jones

About The Villagers

Olive & Geoffrey are happier than ever. After moving to the countryside to bring up their three young children, they are welcomed with open arms by the friendly and helpful residents of the chocolate box village.

But beyond the veil of rhododendrons and net curtains, there is something more. Just as Olive is settling in and starting to integrate with the community, she finds out that all is not as it first seemed.

As her discoveries become more and more sinister, Olive begins to fear for her own sanity. With her husband doubting her, Olive is faced with choices that will decide the fate of her family.

The Villagers paints an intriguing picture of a 1950s English country village, where not everyone is who they first appear to be.

My thoughts

What a treat it is to pick up a novel and be catapulted back to a time when fiction was fiction and didn’t have to bow to the dictates of genre. The Villagers is, as the title suggests, a portrait of a small village, or rather a series of portraits of the characters in it.

The novel opens on a feel-good scene as out-of-towners Olive and Geoff and their three young children settle into their new home in a quaint village in Shropshire. But there will be no doubt in the reader’s mind that all is not as it seems as Olive is introduced to all those smiling, welcoming faces. Everyone, she soon discovers, has a secret. What unfolds, chapter by chapter, are the true stories of a set of characters in 1950s rural England.

Initially The Villagers is highly descriptive with echoes of old-fashioned, almost childhood storytelling, but that should by no means put off those used to modern prose, for here we have something charming and intriguing, drawing us back to a bygone era both in the story and the manner in which it is told.

Each chapter is a character study and what colourful and quirky characters the villagers all turn out to be! The plotting and pacing are good. Griffiths-Jones peppers her prose with humour, yet she remains sympathetic to all of her creations.

Well-written with subtle and gentle irony, reminiscent of the very era she writes, Griffiths-Jones has penned a novel that will warm the hearts of her readers. The Villagers is based on true testimony, too, which makes it all the more delicious to read.

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Book review: Mud and Glass by Laura E. Goodin

What a delight it is to share my review of Mud and Glass by Laura E. Goodin!

Mud and Glass by Laura E Goodin

About Mud and Glass

Life is fairly workaday for Dr Celeste Carlucci, a professor at Krasnia’s finest university, until her best friend and colleague Pace involves Celeste in her research.

Before long, Celeste is being shot at from a hovering helicopter, attacked on a moonlit mountain path, and followed by shadowy minions – on the trail of the Littoral Codex, an ancient and indecipherable book.

The race is on to figure out its secrets. On one side are Celeste and her colleagues, armed with nothing but enthusiasm, brilliant minds, and the principles of geography. Against them are the repressive university governors and their jackbooted campus security guards; the rich and power-hungry Praxicopolis family; and a renegade group of researchers, the Littoral League.
Will this ragtag bunch outwit their foes before it’s too late?

My thoughts:

As the cover suggests, Mud and Glass is a quirky adventure story brimming with both action and comedy. Goodin takes her readers straight into the action as her protagonist, geography academic Celeste, helps her two colleagues recover a strange and awfully heavy box. From there, Celeste is thrust into a world of intrigue. She is not sure who she can trust as she encounters an array of characters and groups all with vested interests in the Littoral Codex. The plot pivots on the desire of these various disparate groups to lay their hands on the glass filters that will enable them to decipher this strange book. The race is most definitely on!

Mud and Glass is on one level a fantasy novel, in that the protagonist finds herself, somewhat reluctantly, on a quest in an imaginary world not quite but awfully similar to our own. Fantasy or fanciful – it really doesn’t matter, as ultimately Mud and Glass is a work of satire. Perhaps the novel belongs beside Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and it is certainly reminiscent of both Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum and AS Byatt’s Possession, in terms of the themes and ideas that motivate the plot. Yet Goodin’s novel is nothing like those two much heavier works of fiction. Mud and Glass is at once riveting and lighthearted, and at times a romantic read.

Goodin’s plotting is excellent, as is her characterisation, many of the minor characters vividly and convincingly portrayed. The pace is fast, the story enormously entertaining. I especially love the way Goodin portrays Celeste as an impoverished, half-starved and perpetually ravenous academic craving tenure. Mud and Glass is probably not a book to be read if you are feeling hungry, unless you have a ready supply of sustenance!

A light read Mud and Glass is, but it is not without depth. Quite the contrary, I found the novel insightful and thought-provoking. Through the lens of her protagonist, Goodin provides a powerful allegory for all the ‘have-nots’ the world over, pitting their wits against the corporate ‘haves’ who hold all the power. In Mud and Glass this latter group is represented by the university governors, but above all by the Praxicopolis dynasty. Now there is a word worth unpacking!

Unpretentious, punchy and upbeat, and filled with wit, Mud and Glass is an absorbing and compelling read, truly a novel to devour.

Purchase your copy of Mud and Glass on Amazon

Find Laura E. Goodin here

 

Book review: Her Name is Mercie by Chris Roy

The joy of writing book reviews is stumbling on good stories, well told. When the stories take your breath away, all the better! Here is my review of one Her Name is Mercie, a collection of short stories by Chris Roy.

“Mercie Hillbrook lives a simple, quiet life working as a gas station attendant. Then her parents are killed. Her home is taken. The people responsible are excused for just doing their job. When an attempt to get justice her way lands her in trouble with the law, Mercie realizes she still has something to lose: her own life.

Then she finds reason to believe her parents were murdered… and she doesn’t care anymore.”

My thoughts:

As the cover suggests, Her Name is Mercie is a dark and thrilling ride, the lead story, almost novella length, an edge of seat experience that demands to be read in one sitting. Roy does not let his readers stray from his pages. He has you right there with the action, living it, feeling it. Mercie and her sidekick are likeable characters, and through their eyes, from the initial story set up to the dramatic ending, Roy explores the theme of injustice. Hard and racy and thoroughly entertaining, ‘Her Name is Mercie’ contains a perfect story arc. The writing is vivid and controlled, Roy demonstrating poise and restraint even as he delivers the gruesome details.

All the elements of a good short story are present throughout the collection; with writing that is taut and punchy, sparse and edgy, and with plenty of twists and turns and unexpected and satisfying endings. There are moments of visceral horror yet the horror element is never overplayed. A good craftsman, Roy sets his scenes with acute observations and a minimum of detail and a healthy measure of wit.

The second story, ‘Re-Pete’ is a gem. Told from the perspective of a young child with OCD, the result of a ghastly and recent trauma, the tale is funny and absurd, and packs a delightfully wicked punch, if ‘delightful’ can be used in the context. Roy enters the mind of young Pete with sensitivity and compassion. Pete, like the other protagonists in the collection, deserves better than the life he has been given.

Themes of justice and corruption and revenge against wrongdoers dominate the collection. In Her Name is Mercie, Roy’s protagonists, the victims of bad deeds, step into their own power.

Roy clearly has a gift, invoking in his readers immediate and deep engagement. With this collection he has thrown down the gauntlet, meeting the challenge of originality and displaying prowess across multiple styles – spooky, sinister, surreal, brutal and ironic – each story is distinct. I look forward to reading more from this author.

Book review: The Torcian Chronicles: Defiance by P.J. Reed

I very rarely dip into dark fantasy, so it was a treat to read P. J. Reed’s debut.

“Mesham sits dejectedly in a tiny garret above an inn, as the lands of Torcia fall to the magically-enhanced army of the infamous Mivirian Horde. One of the last surviving ancient warlocks of Torcia, Mesham knows he is marked for death.

The Torcian king knocks on Mesham’s door later that evening and offers him the chance of rejuvenation in return for a seemingly impossible mission into the heart of Mivir. Mesham reluctantly agrees, only to realise the evil of Mivir has spread to the very top of the Torcian government.

As Mesham undertakes his quest to complete the mission, he finds himself hunted by his king, by the mighty Torcian warbands, and by the Horde.

But he cannot fail, for the fate of Mesham’s beloved Torcia rests in his hands.”

 

My thoughts:

The novel opens with a battle scene, more a massacre, providing the reader with a good sense of what is to come as a party of Mirivian Outriders descend on Sicam and his men. Realising the danger of complete annihilation, the Torcian king rejuvenates a decrepit warlock and sends him on a mission to save the kingdom. Mesham gathers around him a motley crew who are forced to defend themselves against all manner of monsters. Nowhere is safe. Even the trees are alive and menacing.

Reed writes well, building her world with the minimum of fuss, drawing in her readers with all the elements of a good dark fantasy novel, not least evocative descriptions of decaying cities and carnage, the horror unrelenting. Reed has created characters that are convincing and vividly portrayed, with enough betrayal, treachery and intrigue to hold the attention, and oodles of action and adventure right to the very end. Reed takes her readers on a frenzied ride through a kind of hell, terrifying, disturbing and jaw-dropping by turns. The magic in the story works well. Imaginative and gripping, with strong writing overall, I would recommend this book to appreciators of the dark fantasy genre. I enjoyed finding the spell list at the end.

 

You can grab your copy here.

 

 

 

 

 

Book review: The Erotic Odyssey of Colton Forshay by James H Longmore

What a naughty and absurdly dark novel this is!

“Colton Forshay dreams himself into a bizarre sexual dystopia, a world in which nothing is as it should be. Sickening sex acts and sexual violence are the norm and in which the currency is deviant sexual acts. At first disturbed, then intrigued – and aroused – by his dreams of this other world, Colton is drawn deeper in and begins to spend more and more time there; so much so that his wife forces him to visit a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist encourages him to explore the dream world – and our hero goes on an odyssey with his dog/son, Eric, to discover the disturbing truth behind his dream world.”

My thoughts:

What could be more normal than a weekend party at a neighbor’s house? James H Longmore’s The Erotic Odyssey of Colton Forshay is anything but. The story opens at a neighborhood barbecue, where a guest is sacrificed in an unimaginably gruesome fashion amidst wanton depravity. Everyone is there, from housewives lounging in the altogether to a teacher from a local high school and a reverend. Colton, mourning the loss of his wife, Alicia, and somewhat disturbed at having fathered a child-dog, Eric, goes along and participates in the orgy.

When Colton wakes from a wet dream beside his real-world wife, Zeenah, she insists he see her psychiatrist to deal with his sex addiction. He agrees, but the therapy is to no avail. Every time he sleeps he returns to the same dreamscape, peppered with characters taken from his waking life. The two realities bleed into each other as Colton’s dreaming takes over his waking reality in what amounts to a bizarre possession.

Things slide downhill in his dreamworld as Colton is coerced into attending an orgy at the Presidential palace, to participate in a version of Devil’s Roulette. The narrative reaches a steamy and grotesque climax as Colton attempts to escape with his life.

The Erotic Odyssey of Colton Forshay follows a traditional story arc, cleverly constructed, the intertwining of the two realities well-executed. Every sort of debauchery is interwoven into the action, the natural realism of the prose underscoring an incisive critique of middle-class suburbia, its shadowy desires laid bare, along with a fascinating insight into the nature of consciousness. Fast-paced, hilarious and unrelenting, with a satisfying twist at the end, Longmore has penned a thoroughly entertaining and intelligent work of bizarro fiction. I recommend this book to lovers of horror and dark erotica, and to those interested in discovering the best the bizarro genre has to offer.

Grab you copy here

Discover James H Longmore here

Book review: It’s a Bright World to Feel Lost in by Mawson

I could not resist reviewing this charming picture book for adults by the irresistibly cute Mawson bear!

“Are you feeling a little lost? Got that ‘left in the spare room’ emptiness about you? Mawson does too.
He sits atop his cushion and ponders about baffling things.
The world is a baffling place for a curious teddy bear to live in. Friends approach him about their own dilemmas. They seek instant answers that will make everything all right. Mawson does his best. But after he ponders deeply, most things remain for him just as baffling as they were before.
Take a moment out of your day to pawse with him and explore the world. For the many frazzled readers who feel, secretly, much the same, he offers the comfort that the world is a bright place to be.”

My thoughts:

Mawson has penned a simple and moving tale of love and devotion, of belonging and losing the one you were born to protect. Brief text explains charming and evocative photographs of Mawson and his friends. Mawson is the most ponderous and baffled of bears. He tries to make sense of the world around him, but is challenged at every turn. Each page contains a message to dwell on and there is a satisfying twist at the end.

The shift in perspective as a loveable teddy bear reflects on how he needs to be loved stimulates a different way of viewing the world, encouraging us to put ourselves in the bear’s shoes. When we do, we are suddenly faced with our own selfishness and lack of empathy. Sure, Mawson is just a bear, a fluffy toy, and not a real animate being, or is he? Isn’t he a metaphor for all those living creatures we neglect? And what about those times when we feel neglected? Where do we turn?

It’s a Bright World is a meditation on the nature of love, missing, grieving, solace and healing. The story contains a powerful message: those who provide comfort are too often taken for granted.

It is possible to read this little book in about ten minutes, but then, you might find yourself dipping back in, again and again, leaving your copy on the coffee table to return to at whim. It’s a Bright World is that sort of book.

You can purchase a copy here.

Visit Mawson’s blog

 

Bloody Good Horror Books 5*****Star review of The Legacy of Old Gran Parks!

I’m delighted to share this exceptionally warm and thoughtful review of The Legacy of Old Gran Parks from seasoned industry reviewer, Renier Palland.

 

“The Legacy of Old Gran Parks” by seasoned author Isobel Blackthorn is a droll, deeply satisfying and very understated horror novel published by HellBound Books. I’ve read some of Blackthorn’s work in the past and I haven’t been kind to her in a couple of reviews. Thank Buddha for her latest novel! “The Legacy of Old Gran Parks” is unique, extremely idiosyncratic and bathed in perfect prose. Blackthorn doesn’t just focus on “writing” a novel – she writes with such eloquence that one finds it difficult to critique her tempo and narrative techniques.

Blackthorn combines vengeance and wit to create a fictional world powered by strong plot machinations and a keen understanding of her characters. She injects her narrative with subtle symbolism and quasi-feminism. This amalgam forms an entirely new perspective on the revenge genre and its counterparts. Blackthorn deconstructs the novel like a set of Legos, then rebuilds both the plot and narrative to create a multi-faceted climax and denouement. This novel is much more than meets the eye. During my initial read-and-review process, I missed some of the finer details. Only after a secondary speed reading did I pick up on Blackthorn’s tongue-in-cheek satire.

The novel is billed as a dark comedy, but I disagree with this label. Blackthorn’s novel is a layered tour-de-force. The themes, although sardonic in their entirety, are actually much more insidious than Blackthorn imagined when she wrote the novel. There’s an element of darkness that broods underneath the hood, leaving you breathless once you actually delve deeper into the narrative.

Blackthorn’s characterisation is spot-on. The characters are perplexing, annoying (intentional) and they suffer from a derisive self-imaging machination. It’s as if the characters know Blackthorn, and they understand that she’s toying with them. This character/author intrusion is an intentional narrative device. Blackthorn poses the characters on an imaginary bookshelf and asks the reader, “So fucking what?” It’s a sign of a great author – someone who understands and knows what they’re doing with their characters and narrative.

Technically, Blackthorn didn’t make a single mistake. There was no verbiage, misused adverb or adjective techniques, or myocardial infarction of the plot. I didn’t have to restart the heart like I do with most novels. Blackthorn’s writing style flows like a river in a barren land. Unobstructed. Understated. Unequalled. As a fellow HellBound author (this does not affect the review), I notice just how great their editing techniques are. Unlike other imprints, where mistakes are made during proofing, HellBound delivers perfect editing. I’m not writing this to praise my own publisher – I’m merely stating my observations.

I once gave Blackthorn a 1 out of 5 rating for another book of hers. After a thorough editing process, I reviewed my critique and changed the rating. I was afraid that Blackthorn had to endure another less-than-average rating, but I am pleased to say that “The Legacy of Old Gran Parks” is her magnum opus.

It is definitely the best novel she’s ever written. And one of the best novels of 2018.

RATING: 5 out of 5

Bloody Good Books Reviews

Wow!!!!

Read more about Gran Parks here

Grab a copy here