Review of The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S Villoso Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis

A queen of a divided land must unite her people, even if they hate her, even if it means stopping a ruin that she helped create. A debut epic fantasy from an exciting new voice.

“I murdered a man and made my husband leave the night before they crowned me.”

Born under the crumbling towers of Oren-Yaro, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves that nearly tore her nation apart. Her upcoming marriage to the son of her father’s rival heralds peaceful days to come.

But his sudden departure before their reign begins fractures the kingdom beyond repair. Years later, Talyien receives a message, urging her to attend a meeting across the sea. It’s meant to be an effort at reconciliation, but an assassination attempt leaves the queen stranded and desperate to survive in a dangerous land. With no idea who she can trust, she’s on her own as she struggles to fight her way home.

Review

Sometimes you discover a book that brings much needed freshness to a genre. Well that is exactly what K.S Villoso has produced with her incredible debut The Wolf of Oren-Yaro. This book contains most of the aspects of fantasy that I crave. Epic sword-fights, in depth world-building, morally grey characters, and secrets that can collapse the norms of society at any moment.

What makes this story stand out in my opinion is that Villoso isn’t afraid to slow down the pace of her narrative to allow us as readers to take a breath, and explore Queen Talyien her main protagonist from a range of different angles. Through these slower periods, we are given important information about her personality and history of her families deep ingrained beliefs. This helps the reader to form a clearer perspective of what truly drives Talyien to achieve her goal of trying to reunite her nation. As well as shed light on her complicated legacy from her father’s actions. The voice of Talyien shines through on every page from what excites her to her frustrations. Villoso dumps us in her head, and takes us on a journey that is full of bloodshed, and treachery. Yet at the same time is able to explore her vulnerabilities that make her so easily lead. I couldn’t get enough of her. You can’t help but want to hear her story.

I have to admit during the first few chapters I was worried the story was going to be to predictable. That it would follow the story arcs of many previous fantasies. I couldn’t have more wrong. There were elements that were familiar like betrayals, and family rivalries but they were done with twists that you didn’t see coming adding a new flavour that made you continue reading.

This story contains so many intriguing threads that you feel as if you are floating on an ocean unable to see your hands under the surface. The world is a submersion of the senses. It is as if Villoso has written a personal love letter to the Philippines. I adored this aspect of the book it was so refreshing for me as a reader to be able to explore a different culture, and environment I haven’t encountered previously in fantasy. I was swept aside by the new myths and creatures we were introduced to. They are so well written that you can almost reach out and touch them.

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is a highly accomplished first novel. That challenges the norms of fantasy, by incorporating a different blend of cultures, and ideas that enables it to stay true to the pillars of fantasy that the vast majority of readers have grown up with, but injects some added spice that leaves your brain stinging well after the event. At times I was shocked this was from a debut author as it was so well polished. I look forward to reading the next installment, as I can’t wait to jump back into this world. One thing I would like to see more of is exploration into side characters back stories as the cast of characters assembled truly held my attention throughout. It receives 4 stars.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

Review of Stormtide by Den Patrick Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Blurb

Book Two in stunning Scandinavia-inspired fantasy trilogy The Ashen Torment.

BOOK TWO OF THE ASHEN TORMENT

Steiner, blacksmith, hero, has taken a hammer to the Empire, freeing the dead and children with witchsign alike from their fiery prison. Now he plans to finish what he started.

Kimi, dragon-speaker, princess, must seek her father’s court and win the support of his armies before news of her escape dooms her people.

Silverdust, ancient, dead, journeys to the heart of the empire as a prisoner – to meet the Emperor for what he hopes will be the final time.

Kjellrun, witch, killer, still reeling from the loss of her uncle when she is ripped from her family, fears this power within her. But she must harness that force – and soon – if she hopes to survive.

Scattered by fortune, plagued by danger, Steiner’s crew rise against the dark rule that has cost them so much.

The old gods are waking.

The dragons are free.
May gods help those who bear the sign of the witch.

Den Patrick’s thrilling new series continues in the sequel to the acclaimed WITCHSIGN.

Review

Where do I begin reviewing Stormtide. I have recently being doing a reread in preparation for the final book in the trilogy. I have been blown away. I mean I thought it was outstanding the first time I read it. However this reread has enabled to examine every aspect in more detail, and notice things that I missed the first time around. Den’s writing is spellbinding I felt as if I was exploring the story all over again for the first time. He drew me into the adventure with the same hunger I wanted to read my friends again. I still didn’t notice the twists coming.

Den’s writing allowed me to get lost. To go on multiple adventures with a cast of characters that when you finish reading them you have experienced every emotion. He did this to me twice. Whether it was through sailing with Romola. The baddest pirate in fantasy, who has an air of mystery, and sweetness that makes you want to stay with her longer, or Silverdust outsmarting everyone, to the hilarious personality of Tief. Every character has something to discover. I found myself crying, laughing, and dancing with joy as this little piece of heaven enabled me to escape 2020 for a few days.

What Den has been able to build in this second installment of the Ashen Torment series is nothing short of incredible. Some fantasy series can suffer a boring second book leading to disappointment. In this case its the total opposite. The second book takes this series to new heights going into places unexplored by fantasy. I know that is a bold claim, but I stand by it. I simply can’t remember the last time I was so connected to characters. I cared about all of them. Their stories made them feel like family. The reread was like an embrace from a long lost friend and I couldn’t wait to say hello again over a pint of ale or fighting side by side against a corrupt empire.

This book has it all. A subtle magic system, enchanted weapons, dragon riders, sexy pirates, smart mouthed mythical creatures, and tormented dragons that will have you running for the hills. If that doesn’t catch your attention then let me say this no character throughout the entire narrative lost my interest, and remember this was a reread. I knew what the book was about and still I went through the same breathtaking experience. Screw George RR. Martin. Ashen Torment blows him out the water. I know this, when the trilogy ends I am going to be a wreck. This second installment is a warm hug with a deadly kiss. Read it for yourselves and get lost in a world that you’ll never want to leave. Well Done Den. You get 5 stars. Thank you for my friends. Kimi forever.

Review of Knightmare Arcanist (Frith Chronicles Book 1) by Shami Stovall Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis

Magic. Sailing. A murderer among heroes.

Gravedigger Volke Savan wants nothing more than to be like his hero, the legendary magical swashbuckler, Gregory Ruma. First he needs to become an arcanist, someone capable of wielding magic, which requires bonding with a mythical creature. And he’ll take anything—a pegasus, a griffin, a ravenous hydra—maybe even a leviathan, like Ruma.

So when Volke stumbles across a knightmare, a creature made of shadow and terror, he has no reservations. But the knightmare knows a terrible secret: Ruma is a murderer out to spread corrupted magic throughout their island nation. He’s already killed a population of phoenixes and he intends to kill even more.

In order to protect his home, his adopted sister, and the girl he admires from afar, Volke will need to confront his hero, the Master Arcanist Gregory Ruma.

A fast-paced fantasy with magical creatures for those who enjoy the Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera series) by Jim Butcher, Unsouled (Cradle Series) by Will Wight, and Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan.

Review

Today I am honoured to be part of the Knightmare Arcanist blog tour. Thanks to Dave for the invite.

I have to admit that YA fantasy isn’t something I normally read. The book itself begins on a small island filled with magical and mythical creatures that bond themselves to a select few. This enables the chosen ones to access their powers, and yield magic turning these individuals into Arcanists. This position is highly regarded within the fantasy society created within the book.

From the beginning of the book readers are shown the different class systems that exist upon the island. Unfortunately our main protagonist Volke falls into one of the lowest. A gravedigger. Smelling of the dead and covered in dirt he longs for a better life. He is also orphan who has been disowned by most of island’s population due to his parents shady past. We first meet him on a hillside overlooking the crystal blue sea digging a grave. He starts talking about how he will become an arcanist with his adopted sister Illia who herself has a dark past. How he will become a hero proving that he is not his father’s son. As I read this opening scene I was worried that this story was going down the same pathways as other YA that Volke would rise from his low status and bond with a phoenix fulfilling some untold destiny.

Phoenixes are one of the main mythical creatures used throughout the story. The main impact phoenixes have upon the island is every ten years several of them in a large ceremony select who they will give their magic too. However only those of privilege, and knowledge are allowed to enter the contest to try to win the phoniexes favour and yield their magic. The author does a wonderful job of showing this elite system without suffocating readers with info dumps. I couldn’t help but notice as I continued reading this system that it very much reflected our own world, where only a select few are given equal opportunities to succeed. This creates a major barrier for Volke to outcome. Unfortunately for Volke it all ends in humiliation. This twist was a nice change from the author on the usual story-line making you wonder how was it going to play out.

Volke on the other hand isn’t defeated. He will do anything to achieve his goal even if it means binding himself to a Knightmare. A dark and deceitful creature of terror and shadow. Leading him down a path that could destroy everyone’s existence. Because the Knightmare which he has bonded himself to, holds a secret that will put Volke in direct confrontation with his island’s founder Gregory Ruma.

This book has a lot of elements that draw you in. Mythical creatures different from the ones that you usually experience within the fantasy genre. An intriguing magic system that is subtlety woven into the narrative without the need for major info dumps which is always a major plus in any fantasy. These are the positive points of the book.

Unfortunately there were certain aspects I couldn’t engage with. Some of the characters were to one dimensional. What I mean by that is their actions were predictable. Too often falling into the well known troupes of YA that made me move away from the genre as I widen my reading tastes. Characters were to perfect. They didn’t reflect in my opinion how humans or creatures would behave in any walk of life. We all have flaws, insecurities, and bias that make us who we are. Informing our actions either good or bad. At times scenes seemed to easily resoluted with characters trusting one another far to easily. Unfortunately this made the scenes become unbelievable, and left them wide open for betrayal.

This book has a fast paced narrative with a well thought out magic system. This holds your interest during the narrative as you want to find out more. The book is great for helping clean the palate if you have been feasting on tomes of fantasy throughout lockdown. However if your looking for a complex plot, and characters with shades of grey in their personalities then this isn’t for you. A solid YA fantasy with interesting concepts. It receives 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of the book to be part of the blog tour. This doesn’t affect my views.

 

 

 

Review of Far From The Tree By Rob Parker Written By Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis 

Twenty-seven bodies, vacuum-packed, buried in a woodland trench. Some have been there for years, some for just days.

When DI Brendan Foley recognises one of the Warrington 27, he knows this case is about to shake his world.

Detective Sergeant Iona Madison is a skilled boxer and a vital support for Foley. Theirs is a newly established police force, and loyalties are about to be tested to the extreme.

Pressure mounts as news of the mass grave is plastered over the news. Brendan knows they can’t crack this case alone, but he’s not letting a rival force take over.

Their investigations lead them into the murky underworlds of Manchester and Liverpool, where one more murder means little to drug-dealing gangs, desperate to control their power bases.

But as Madison steps into the ring for the fight of her life, the criminals come to them. It’s no coincidence that the corpses have been buried in Foley’s hometown. The question is, why?

The first in a gripping new crime series, Far from the Tree is perfect for fans of Clare Mackintosh, Ian Rankin and Line of Duty.

Review

Today I am honoured to be part of the Far From The Tree blog tour. Thanks to Amber for the invite.

I need to be careful that this review doesn’t turn into a gush fest of how extraordinary this book is. I am an avid reader of Rob’s Ben Bracken series which if you haven’t yet sampled. One where have you been. Two get on it because in my opinion it’s better than Jack Reacher. I will go to my grave saying that.

Therefore when I was kindly sent an advance copy of the first book in Rob’s new trilogy. It was fair to say that I had high exceptions. However what Mr Parker has produced blew my exceptions out of the water. It was like merging a nuclear bomb with napalm and setting it alight. This series has took off like a rocket and shows no signs of slowing down.

I mean the synopsis alone grabbed my immediate attention. Twenty seven bodies found in a swallow woodland trench in rural Warrington, all wrapped in plastic like discarded mummies. If that doesn’t make you want to flip open the front cover and drive straight in well I think you need to stop reading crime fiction.

When the investigation becomes personal after the discovery of DI Brendan Foley’s nephew Connor as one of the twenty seven victims. He stops nothing to bring the killer to justice. Setting off a chain of events that could have devastating consequences for both his family, and his position as an inspector within the force. As the plot develops he finds himself faced with multiple conflicts as secrets within his family, and the criminal underworld of Warrington rise to the surface. As his team go deeper into the murky waters of this horrendous crime. It begins to grow branches like a tree going in so many different directions they don’t know which way is up. All their emotions and personal ties are tested to the limit especially Brendan’s as he fights to maintain his involvement in the case.

This is a police procedural but not as you know it. Parker continues to raise the stakes throughout creating a narrative that has more threads than Twitter. He slowly drip feeds information to the reader helping to keep the plot on a knife edge. As you fight to piece together every clue that is presented to you without discarding pieces that will become vital later is virtually impossible. The red-herrings are expertly executed leading the reader away from the true darkness that waits in the shadows ready to pounce.

The sense of tension is created using numerous devices but the main one is Rob’s use of multiple viewpoints helping to give the reader the thoughts of characters and their motives throughout the narrative. One of my favourites being Iona Madison. A female detective sergeant who is part of Foley’s team, and highly respected within her profession. I looked forward to her chapters because Rob hasn’t fallen into the love interest of his protagonist troupe that you often see within crime fiction. Instead he made Madison hard as nails, gritty, determined, and able to speak her mind without fear of feeling intimidated. I warmed to her instantly, as she ticks all the boxes of what I want to see in modern female characters in any genre. I want female characters to be strong and independent to reflect the characteristics of the women I encounter in my daily life. In Madison Rob has captured this perfectly. I could go on forever about the female characters in this book as every single one brings something to the party. Creating a rich tapestry of characters to fall for. I can’t wait to see what direction Parker takes these characters in next.

Far From the Tree is a book of secrets that brings a town and a family to breaking point. We witness how one event can blow what appears to be the perfect life to shreds. In this book there is everything. Complex father and son relationships, sibling rivalry, the tenderness of friendships, and other family bounds. However as more secrets surface these ties gradually unravel. Making you wonder what are all families truly hiding. How the land lies at the end of this sinister crime nobody can predict, but when the dust settles everyone is changed forever for better or worse. Parker continues to deliver characters that stay with you long after you turn the final page. This one ripped my heart out and came back for more. I loved it.

I genuinely cannot wait for the next installment in this ground-breaking examination of the police procedural genre. It receives 5 stars. However I want to give Mr Parker an even higher compliment. It’s my book of the year so far and it’s going to take some beating. I didn’t think anything could beat Bracken as I adore that series so much. However this comes close. Congratulations Mr Parker you have produced a belter and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

About the Author

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Far From The Tree Blog Tour Banner

I received a copy of the book to be part of the blog tour. This doesn’t affect my views.

Singapore Killer Blog Tour- An Ash Carter Thriller Written by Murray Bailey. Review Written by Dan Stubbings

 

Today I am honoured to be part of the Singapore Killer Blog Tour. Thank you to Murray for asking me to take part.

Book Synopsis

A helicopter crash and burned bodies.
A faceless corpse.
A mysterious town.
It’s September 1953 and Carter is drawn into a dark case from which there seems no escape.
#WhoIsBlackJack

Review

Singapore Killer builds upon the elements we love from the previous installments of Ash Carter. The hardness, his eye for detail that enables him to view a crime scene differently from other people in his profession, and his get in my way and I will destroy you attitude. These aspects are intensified to levels that leave you reeling from chapter to chapter, as Murray gradually reveals a ton of secrets that won’t loosen their grip until you solve them all.

This book begins where every thriller should. By dropping the reader straight into the action. The opening chapters are like a hand grenade going off. All hell breaks loose. A helicopter has come down in the centre of dense jungle in mysterious circumstances. However all isn’t as it seems as it’s burned out carcass is investigated further things don’t add up. Two members of the crew are dead. One from a point blank range bullet to the head. Another passenger is missing leaving a set of handcuffs abandoned inside the cockpit. No record of who was on board can be traced. This situation soon brings in Ash Carter who is going through some personal issues himself. However he soon has to put them to the back of his mind, when this case quickly becomes something that could change everyone’s world as they know it forever.

As the story develops you find yourself as a reader being guided to clues, asked to make your own choices. I really enjoyed this because Murray’s writing is never predictable, and for somebody who reads alot of this genre its a joy. At no point during the narrative did I feel I knew how Ash or any of the characters were going to act. Plus when important decisions were made by characters I always felt that Murray could of taken the story in several directions, and it would still have produced a satisfying conclusion.

In Singapore Killer Murray moved away from the usual story-lines associated with this type of thriller, giving a fresh perspective to how these types of books can be written. Throughout the story I was never told how to respond to specific characters which allowed me to put together a complete picture of a character, and then Murray would blow it up in the next paragraph. This caused an intense feeling as a reader that you won’t in control during an already deeply complex narrative.

The evolution of both Ash and minor characters in the fifth chapter of this series is some of Murray’s finest writing to date. I can’t wait to sample more. The reason I was more involved in this new adventure than the previous books is because Murray deliberately places Ash in scenarios where he is unsettled. Where the right decision isn’t what it seems. As an avid reader of this genre I am finding myself been drawn away from the good guy who kicks everybody’s ass and leaves without a scratch on them. I prefer protagonists who have both darkness and light. I want characters to have both internal and external conflict. Murray wrote this beautifully in Singapore Killer with Ash. Throughout the entire narrative you witness him wrestling with both seen and unseen demons, and you never know what his next move will be.

My only criticism is that sometimes it can become over-descriptive which unintentionally causes the tension to decrease. This can be frustrating when you want Ash to maintain the head of stream that has been developed in spades. This is a small critic, and doesn’t take away the talent displayed by Murray in using a range of locations from both urban streets, to a dense humid jungle that makes your skin crawl as Ash goes deeper into his own horrors.

In conclusion this installment to the Ash Carter series is an experiment by the author to see how far he can push both Ash and his readers. This is a white knuckle ride into the very depths of what we see as the ultimate crime. I found myself needing both a break and not wanting it to let up. Ash Carter is back, and I hope he is around for along time to come. It is a wonderful mix of intriguing characters and action. Well done Murray. It receives 4 stars on the rip-roarer scale.

  About the Author

Murray Bailey Books HOME

I have always enjoyed writing and, as a child, I even managed to be published in both the Times Educational Supplement as well as my local paper the Lichfield Mercury. Unfortunately, this didn’t lead to publishers knocking on my door. After studying Physics at the University of Southampton followed by Applied Mathematics at Cambridge, I entered the very different world of Consumer Credit.

Although I edited Credit Risk International for a year, contributed and edited 3 textbooks and wrote two more, my passion has always been with fiction – in particular, thriller and crime writing. Surprisingly, I discovered there is quite a large overlap between credit risk and crime writing – not least, the amount of logic, problem solving and analysis that each requires.

I have been writing as a hobby for more than 10 years and, after a lot of encouragement from my wife, finally focused on getting something published. My first book, I Dare You, is available as a paperback or Kindle version through Amazon and was followed up in 2017 by the sequel, Dare You Twice. My second work, Map of the Dead, allowed me to indulge my passion for Egyptology and will be followed up by Secrets of the Dead in 2018. Black Creek White Lies, based in Cornwall, is a stand alone written for my mother. The Ash Carter series was influenced by my father’s experiences in the Royal Military Police in 1950s Singapore. Singapore Girl is the second in the series and Singapore Boxer the third. Hopefully 2019 will see episode four.

Born in Greater Manchester, England, I have gradually moved south until I reached the beautiful Dorset coast where I now live with my wife and family. Having young children and an all-consuming passion such as writing doesn’t leave much free time, but when I do take a break I enjoy running and cycling, kayaking along the gorgeous River Stour and building sandcastles with my children. To find out more about the Ash Carter Series click on this link. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Murray-Bailey/e/B01J811866?ref_=dbs_p_pbk_r00_abau_000000

Singapore Killer Blogtour v4

I received a copy of the book from the author to take part in the blog tour. This doesn’t affect my views.

Review of This Ragged, Wastrel Thing Book One of the Sonaya Nights Trilogy By Tomas Marcantonio Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis 

After serving eleven years in The Heights for the murder of his childhood sweetheart, one-eared vagabond Daganae Kawasaki is finally free. But beneath the neon glare of a sprawling Sonaya, he soon discovers the backstreets are bursting with strange new shadows. Confronting plucky street orphans, bitter biker girls and down-and-out expats, Dag is swiftly embroiled in a fresh homicide case – and finds his murky past isn’t done with him yet.

This Ragged, Wastrel Thing is the first instalment of the Sonaya Nights trilogy; a new dystopian noir series set in the fictional city of Sonaya. Deep in The Rivers, through the winding web of neon alleys, we follow our troubled protagonist, Daganae Kawasaki, as he scours the streets to uncover the truth behind his eleven-year stint in The Heights. But will his search for answers in the dingy basement bars and seedy homework clubs finally distinguish friend from foe, right from wrong, or will he uncover more bitter untruths than ever before? Will he finally find freedom from the pain of his past or will new revelations ignite a lust for revenge? Discover a new voice in modern noir fiction and join Dag on his painful pursuit for salvation and sake.

Review

First of all this book is hard to put into a genre as it seems to have a mixture of everything, from government conspiracies to detailed world building that immerses you within its every detail. The world of Sonaya is a world of shadows, and bottomless pits containing the worst kind of human if you can call them that. Sonaya is a forgotten state of a futuristic rebellious Japan. A dark backwater of horrific crimes and even deeper corruption that runs rampant throughout its streets. Its the backdrop to Tomas’s story and as the narrative developed this world took on a mind of its own from the blood stained pavements of the Rivers, to the black-market drug fuelled dens of The Warren. Tomas made sure that the reader lived every element in beautifully descriptive detail. Sonaya feels as real as any city in our world. I enjoyed it so much that I paused at certain paragraphs to reread them simply so that I could see the picture being painted in my mind all over again. The way in which Tomas wrote Sonaya was like a nuclear warhead going off in your senses. It sent waves of electricity crackling over my skin causing goosebumps Sonaya is alive. You can’t get enough.

The story is told from the perspective of Daganae Kawasaki. A recently released convict who has served eleven years for the murder of his girlfriend. He’s released from The Heights. Sonaya’s most notorious prison and his crime is legendary. He wants to make up for lost time and that means one thing trouble. Before he was imprisoned he was a respected police officer and his girlfriend was a shoe in for major of Sonaya. However the night of her murder his memory is hazy. Clouded with regret and alcohol can it be trusted? Should he really of served eleven years for murder? Did he really kill her as he remembers or was there somebody’s else agenda at play. These are all questions he hopes to answer as they are all he’s thought about since the cell door closed eleven years ago. As he returns to his old haunts and reunites with shady old friends and a questionable gang of biker girl vigilantes.

He gets to work on rewriting his past. However as Daganae falls deeper into the clutches of Sonaya’s dark side he begins to discover an entirely different vision of events from the ones he remembers from several sources. Ones he can trust with his life, and others that are out to kill him at the first opportunity. Everyone in Sonaya seems to wear a mask or has a long buried secret that is beginning to surface, and Daganae always seems to be at the centre of them. The cast of characters that he encounters throughout this multi- layered story is a tapestry of deceit.

My favourite has to be Jiko. A fiery red haired biker chick who takes no shit from anyone. She knows the dark streets of Sonaya like the back of her hand. Her involvement with Daganae is complicated. Their paths crossing in another life for both of them. However as the story developed you couldn’t help but begin to fall for their father-daughter kind of relationship. Both have their vulnerabilities on show. Their relationship is a rare light in the darkness that is Sonaya.

This book is a beautiful mash up of grim noir and Japanese flare with the beating heart of motor-head vigilantes. Its the Sons of Anarchy meets Sin City. I for one cannot wait to see what Tomas has in store for us next. This is a highly polished debut and receives five stars.

Pre-Ordering The Book

Has my review grabbed your attention? If so then why don’t you pre-order now on the link below.

This Ragged, Wastrel Thing by Tomas Marcantonio: Available for pre-order now!

About the Author

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Tomas Marcantonio is a novelist and short story writer from Brighton, England. He graduated from the University of Sussex with a degree in English Language and Film, and his fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and journals, both online and in print. Tomas is currently based in Busan, South Korea, where he teaches English and writes whenever he can escape the classroom. You can follow him on Twitter @TJMarcantonio.

 
I received an advance proof copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t effect my views.

 

Review of In the Company of Strangers by Awais Khan Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis

In the glittering world of Pakistan’s elite, all is not what it seems…

Mona has almost everything: money, friends, social status… everything except for freedom. Languishing in her golden cage, she craves a sense of belonging…

Desperate for emotional release, she turns to a friend who introduces her to a world of glitter, glamour, covert affairs and drugs. There she meets Ali, a physically and emotionally wounded man, years younger than her.

Heady with love, she begins a delicate game of deceit that spirals out of control and threatens to shatter the deceptive facade of conservatism erected by Lahori society, and potentially destroy everything that Mona has ever held dear.

Review

When I first read the blurb of In the Company of Strangers. I was concerned that it would be predictable. Playing into the hands of what I have come to expect from modern day thrillers which is a part of the world gripped on the path to corruption. However I couldn’t have been more wrong in my assumptions. This book in my opinion is a reflection of the turmoil within in our world.

Awais has written a narrative where every character regardless of their role in any scene you must pay attention to everything they say and do. The reason for this is because what could appear to be a throwaway piece of dialogue or meaningless action could in fact turn out to be a major plot point.

The layers of deception Awais weaves is outstanding plunging the reader into a world that is shrouded in mystery and harrowing imagery that leaves you breathless. He doesn’t shy away from exposing the truth around the Lahori society within Pakistan from the double standards, lack of empathy, and indulgence that occurs throughout the novel. Exposing us to a world of the rich that seems shut off from the rest of the country. One of the most important scenes that stayed with me as I continued reading this spellbinding tale was after a terrorist attack takes place killing hundreds of people. The main protagonist’s Mona elitist friends turn down the volume on the television and proceed to drink and dance as they see it as to depressing. I couldn’t help reflect that this was a major theme for Awais. Helping to show how separate the rich are in their views from the rest of their country.

The tapestry of voices Awais creates in this story of glamour, forbidden fruits, and a chaotic love that could end up tearing down everything the Lahori society values most is mind-blowing. Every character is placed in situations where they have internal struggles. Moments where they have to go against the status they have developed for themselves. This is shown best by Mona because even though she craves freedom and the thrills of her newfound love. She is constantly fighting against the ideals of the society in which she lives. A society in which for the most part relegate women into a place of discipline and having to project an image of calmness and strength. Mona’s sense of wanting to belong to both these polarised worlds has devastating consequences that ripple across the entire narrative. Infecting each character like a poison that ends in a domino affect  impacting upon all of them and how they execute their chosen paths.

Awais In the Company of Strangers has flipped story ideas on their head. Giving the reader a story that is filled with colour and a setting that is so atmospheric that you can’t help but taste, feel, hear, smell, and see everything you read. I could go on forever about this novel. It is a triumph in how to expose your readers to a part of a world that is unknown to them and make them feel part of it. Well done Awais you receive 5 stars. A cracking debut novel.

I received a copy from the author in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

About the Author

AK

Awais Khan was born in Lahore, Pakistan. ‘In the Company of Strangers’ is his first novel published by the Book Guild and Simon & Schuster. He is a graduate of The University of Western Ontario and Durham University. He studied Creative Writing at Faber Academy. His work has appeared in The Aleph Review, The Missing Slate, MODE, Daily Times and The News International. He has appeared for Interviews on Voice of America, Samaa TV, City42, Maverix Media and PTV Home. He is represented by Annette Crossland (A for Authors Agency Ltd, London).

In his free time, he likes to read all types of fiction, especially historical fiction and psychological thrillers. He is hard at work on his forthcoming novels.

Review of Penny Black (Ben Bracken Series) By Robert Parker written by Dan Stubbings

Today I am honoured to be hosting, and finishing the blog tour for Penny Black by Rob Parker. Thanks to Hannah Groves from Endeavour Media for inviting me.

The Penny Black Blog Tour Banner

Book Synopsis

I’m dead, for all intents and purposes. Nobody knows I’m alive…

Ben Bracken is on the run for his life. Keeping a low profile from the agencies seeking to silence him, he finds refuge in the quiet town of Horning. Working in a boat yard and lodging with an older couple, Eric and Dot, Ben uses this time to plan. He needs to escape, and realising his only chance will reveal his whereabouts to some unsavoury characters, he plans every detail. Little does he know, even that won’t be enough…

Just before he walks away, murder strikes the quiet town. Ben cannot leave until he is sure that he has not brought any further trouble to the townsfolk. Will he be able to exact revenge? One thing is certain, there is a lot more going on in the town of Horning than meets the eye…

The Penny Black is action packed from beginning to end, keeping you guessing right the way through.

Review

Sometimes as a reader you can get lost in words. Clues become to easy to figure out and you find yourself wondering when is the next great read going to come along. Don’t get me wrong you enjoy the books helping you to unwind and discover great characters. However you are able to put them down and return later. However when you do find that book that keeps you up until dawn, and makes you so late for work that you scream at every red light its so worth it. It makes you remember why you love reading.

This is the feeling I had whilst I was reading Penny Black by Rob Parker. The moment I turned the first page I knew all my plans were cancelled. This book will make you forget to eat, sleep, and disconnect all your devices because trust me you won’t want to be interrupted. I am a huge fan of the Ben Bracken series they are must buy for me when they come out. Penny Black has elevated this series to an entirely new level. The growth of Bracken’s character and personality has enabled Rob to write several chapters of intrigue that creates a story that is fresh and new for the crime genre.

The book opens with Bracken retreating for a life in the country as he tries desperately to escape his old life. He has a new identity, working as a mechanic fixing boats on a shipyard, living with old age pensioners in their old ram-shackled boathouse, drinking beers in the local when he finishes his shift. As he tries to bury the demons of old and find solace in his new life. Unfortunately for Bracken however he is about to be drawn into a dark world that will rock his new found home to the core.

I particularly enjoyed how Rob used the setting to create a sense of atmosphere within his narrative. A backdrop shrouded in shadows that almost takes on a mind of its own. Always lurking in the background as Bracken searches its every corner treading carefully to see what he can unearth. Automatically it makes you question what is occurring behind the smiles and sense of community that the locals are trying to project. Immediately Bracken is suspicious and soon finds himself embroiled in a strange undercurrent of darkness that has been hidden in plain sight. What he thought was safe and predictable soon becomes something else. From sinister teenage gangs terrorising the neighbourhood, drugs, and a brutal murder that isn’t what it seems. Bracken is launched back into his old life with unexpected twists and encountering some faces he thought he would never see again. Everyone is a suspect with secrets to hide. Forcing Bracken to look deep inside himself to find the answers he needs.

The reason I feel this novel has given new insight into Bracken’s character that makes you want to stick by him even more is because Rob strips away the tough ex agent stereotype, and dives straight into his vulnerabilities. Some of my favourite moments within Penny Black are when Bracken is reflecting on his life choices, his regrets, and his plans for the future. Rob has given Bracken a license to be afraid, to want to move away from his troubled past and create a new life for himself. An aspect of the story that I kept returning to was the relationship between Bracken and Eric. One of the old age pensioners Bracken is staying with. Eric kind of becomes the father Bracken never had. Rob writes this relationship with a subtlety and tenderness that pulls on your heart strings, with both men hiding secrets from one another. Yet as the story progresses they come to rely on each other in times of struggle. This enables Rob to show the reader their flaws and makes for an interesting subplot as the plot develops.

The more Bracken investigates the worse the secrets become. Turning the village into a battleground, that has you on the edge of your seat to see which of your favourite characters will be left standing when all is said and done. As each secret is revealed you’re left reeling as Rob makes think you have discovered the answer only to add another twist and fool you once again. This is a testament to Rob’s story- telling ability because even though I have read all of the previous Bracken books at no point did I feel I was missing any major backstory. The story was seamless transporting you into Bracken’s mindset, and environment without missing a beat. Rob gives us emotions in spades throughout Penny Black exposing a tenderness to Bracken that has many scars but wants to heal. I’ve heard some people say that Bracken is challenging Reacher. Well for me in Penny Black Reacher’s is relegated into second place. Bravo, it’s a home run its like James Bond meets The Godfather I bloody loved it. It receives 5 stars.

I received a copy from the author in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

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Interview with Roger McKnight Conducted by Dan Stubbings

Today I am delighted to be interviewing Roger McKnight. Author of Hopeful Monsters a wonderful collection of short stories recently published by Storgy Books.

Thanks for taking the time to do this Roger I really appreciate it.

DS: For readers who aren’t familiar with you as a writer would you mind telling us a little about yourself, and how you first got into writing?

RM: I was born and raised in downstate Illinois. I worked as a teacher in Chicago, Sweden, and Puerto Rico before coming to Minnesota for grad school. I now reside in Minnesota.  I’ve always been a writer, though first as a student of journalism (whose courses I didn’t much like but learned from) and then on scholarly research projects.  I’ve always written fiction.  In recent years I’ve worked with a bit more determination at getting my fiction published. Composing stories was my dream even in childhood.

DS: Addiction and Obsession are two key themes throughout the collection. What made you decide on these themes and how did you shape your stories around them?

RM: I consider addiction, if by that is meant drug or alcohol abuse, to be a key theme only in “Rain Shadow” and “Iago.” What interested me most in those stories was not the substance abuse per se, but the mind-set that led the characters Raul and Nick down that path.

Obsession as a theme occurs during the stories, in my opinion, only in the sense that the world has been experiencing troubled times ever since Vietnam.  Most of us, as I see life around me, are eager, if not desperate, to find answers to those troubles, both world-wide and personal. In some cases, as in “Forgetting She Forgot”, they search insistently for answers to life dilemmas (resulting, in this story, from a disaster such as Desert Storm) that aren’t wholly of their own making.  If the present-day search for answers can be described as an obsession, then we’re all probably obsessed to one degree or another. Being troubled by what’s facing us is what flesh is heir to.

By the same token, one can empathize with the anxiety experienced by Jake and Al in “Basic Skills,” even though they keep their feelings under wraps below the surface.

DS: You have lived in both Europe and the US? What are the differences in cultures that interest you? Which have helped inform your writing?

RM: I’ve lived in Scandinavia and the US.  Differences do exist, no doubt about it, but they are hard to put a finger on in brief. In general, one feels more respect for human dignity in Scandinavia, on both the personal and governmental levels.

I tried to write that attitude into “Out the Window,” in which the Swedish employees and the Swedish government have every seeming reason to toss the hospital patients out in the cold, especially the ones who came to Sweden from other countries, and some Swedish employees would not be against doing so.  Yet society chose to keep, house, and protect the helpless.  In that story, Laila has a lot to teach Ewen.

As for Hopeful Monsters as a whole, reviewers tend to remark that the stories all hold out some hope in the end. That softening influence comes from my experience of Scandinavian life and culture, an attitude that’s not wholly missing in Minnesota and will be needed greatly as the state becomes increasingly multi-cultural.

DS: I adored how you drew history into your stories, to reflect how turbulent the world has been over the years. How much research did you do for each story?

RM: For some stories, much research was needed. With tales like “Iago,” “Out the Window,” “Down the River,” and “Sixteen,” I read a lot and talked with people who were there and experienced it.

For example, what happens/happened in a crack house; what was the history of institutions for the developmentally challenged in Sweden; how could the Civil War Era’s Old Slave House have existed in a free state like Illinois and why would Abraham Lincoln have visited there and dined with the illegal slave owner while blacks were held captive in the rooms above them; what was it like fleeing Somalia and coming to the US (I got that straight from a 15-year-old boy in Minnesota).

For other stories, I used my own memories from living in the US and Sweden as events happened, including hearing detailed descriptions of washing diapers by hand, as in “Speed Clean” (though I had to read up on Speed Clean washing machines, even if my own mother owned one).  Fact and fiction blend together and suggest the truth.  Research and lived experience worked in unison.

DS: Where there any moments when you were writing the stories that you thought I am maybe going to far? If so in which stories and why?

RM: In the expository sections of the stories I never made any authorial claims to the truth or any favouritism. I made a conscious effort to address vital issues without taking an authorial stance. Some of my characters do take definite stances, but throughout the stories I worked at maintaining a sense of ambiguity about the status of their attitudes.

In “Victoria” Sylvia agrees to do what she can to help Tori, but she isn’t sure if it’s the right thing to do.  She ends the story wondering if ‘good’ is always the same as ‘right’.  In “Loving Sören” Karen and Josh have definite opinions on sensitive issues, but they are willing to reserve final judgment on them while trying to figure out if they truly understand Kierkegaard or not.  “Yesterday’s Storms” brings up the debate between creationism and scientific proof.  That debate is never settled in the story; the issue ends in ambiguity. Ex: Gerome first argues for an expanding universe, but he ends up describing a closed universe.  It’s not clear what he, an astronomer who’s expected to know, does believe in, except the beauty and mystery of what’s out there.

No, I never went too far. I made an honest effort to address important issues without being polemic.

DS: Would you mind talking a small about your writing style please? As I find it extremely unique. I am curious to learn how it developed and where it first came from?

RM: I can try out some comments on my writing style, but I’m not sure exactly what to say. First of all, I didn’t know it’s unique.  If it is, that’s surely because I think in an unlikely combination of academic circumspection and straight-to-the point southern Illinois rural dialect mixed in with some Minnesota neologisms (a contrast I vaguely touched on in “Speed Clean”).

Also, I read lots of Scandinavian literature, in which understatement and chariness of comment are common.  There’s kind of an iceberg effect in much Scandinavian lit, in which as much is left unsaid under the surface as appears above it. What one critic called “the art of the half-told tale.”  I hope my stories tell more than half, however. I try to be somewhat subtle.

DS: Who would you say were your writing influences growing up? Which writers would you encourage everyone to read and why?

RM: Steinbeck.  Hemingway.  Edwin Arlington Robinson.  Winesburg, Ohio.  Spoon River Anthology.  T. S. Eliot. Thoreau.

People should read: the Swedish novelist and dramatist Hjalmar Söderberg (1879-1941). 

Try his novel Doctor Glas.  It’s about a medical doctor, who goes about committing the perfect crime.  And his collection of stories called in English simply Short Stories.  You might have to get them through a library or very good bookstore.

For a perfectly structured drama, I suggest Miss Julie by the Swedish dramatist August Strindberg (1849-1912).  Study how the drama’s skilfully put together.

DS: Finally what is next for Roger McKnight?

RM: Another collection of short stories.  Maybe a novel.  I’m fishing around.

Thanks to Roger and Storgy Books for allowing me to do this interview. The interview was carried out over email. Thanks Roger for your insight answers to my questions.

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You can buy the book now! On the link below:

HOPEFUL MONSTERS: Paperback & Ebook available now!

 

Review of Dead of Night Written by Michael Stanley Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis 

When freelance journalist, Crystal Nguyen, heads to South Africa, she thinks she’ll be researching an article on rhino-horn smuggling for National Geographic, but within a week she’s been hunting poachers, hunted by their bosses, and then arrested in connection with a murder. And everyone is after a briefcase full of money that she doesn’t want, but can’t get rid of… Fleeing South Africa, she goes undercover in Vietnam, trying to discover the truth before she’s exposed by the local mafia. Discovering the plot behind the money is only half the battle. Now she must convince the South African authorities to take action before it’s too late, both for the rhinos and for her. She has a powerful story to tell, if she survives long enough to tell it.

Review

Dead of Night is a book the world needs. Its a crime novel with a different.  Unlike your usual crime novel where you can usually figure out who’s committed the crime towards the end. Dead of Night throws you off at every turn. Drawing you into the sea of deceit that by the time you realise you’re fully submerged the darkness has you firmly in its grasp.

The story is told mostly from the perspective of a young journalist called Crys Nguyen. Who we are first introduced to when she discovers her friend, and fellow journalist Michael Davidson has gone missing investigating the illegal trade of rhino horn in Africa for National Geographic. Desperate to find out what has happened to him she reaches out to National Geographic, and agrees to pick up where he left off. Little does she know that her decision could lead to her death moving her into a world of black market dealings, corrupt cops, and organisations with dangerous ideas. As she finds out more regarding Michael’s disappearance she is faced with choices that could define the rest of her career.

Dead of Night has it all murder, kidnappings, stolen money, and enough shady characters to make even The GoodFellas look tame. The beauty of Michael’s writing is that as he introduces more characters into the story regardless of their position in the status quo he continuously makes you think. He has the ability to make every character fall into grey areas nothing is black or white. As a reader you’re never quite sure who’s telling the truth or what their motive could be. The reason being is because even until the last page I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. Nothing was predictable which as somebody who reads alot of crime begins to notice. It was liberating to be given that thrill again of not knowing what was around the next corner. Allowing my heart to race, and my fingers to burn as I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to keep up. Every line and character had a purpose. It had me from the first line never letting up.

Another aspect I enjoyed aside from the murder mystery which was thrilling. Was the fact that through the use of a crime thriller Michael draws attention to a more damaging issue.

The backdrop of the narrative is where this book grows a life of its own. Asking us as readers to put on a different lens placing a taboo subject under the microscope. The illegal trade of Rhino horn that is ripping the heart and soul out of Africa and Vietnam. Michael does an amazing job of presenting balanced viewpoints from both sides of this unknown world explaining why it occurs, and why multiple factors are to blame for this trade continuing to flourish. I adored how Michael didn’t shy away from how poverty stricken Africa is. Explaining in detail that if the West doesn’t take some responsibility for what has driven people to became involved in these crimes then this black market will only continue to grow.

The book includes some risky material but it needs to be said to educate the public and give them an informed choice. This is why Orenda Books are my number one reads at the moment. Every book delivers a profound message stirring emotions, opening my eyes to corners of the world that I would never have being exposed to if wasn’t for these books. Dead of Night receives five stars. I loved it.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.