Category Archives: Review

Choice Cruise Lines – Book Review

Choice Cruise Lines by Jack Kregas is one of those novels that makes you stop and think. To consider what sort of choices, you would make if they diagnosed you with a terminal illness and actually had a choice whether or end the suffering or die slowly. Following the lives of several characters as they cope with these thoughts, we find various points of views and even the mentality of the men who start a most novel of ideas.

Choice Cruise Line is both a normal cruise and one where people go to end suffering before it gets to the hardest point. While they are still sane and capable of making the choice themselves.

The story obviously touches on dark subjects of death, and the legality and moral rightness of human euthanasia, so clearly this is not a book for the faint of heat, but it does not go in to death, it covers the subject from the point of view of those who will be slowly inching towards it. 

After finishing this book, I spent some time wondering if I would take, or offer, such an option to relatives I have seen die in slow and painful ways. As this is just a book review, I will not go in to that, but it certainly makes one think.

Is Choice Cruise Lines a good book? Yes, it is an amazing book, but go in to it with an open mind and you will enjoy it!

Bloodstone: The Curse of Time Book 1 – Review

Bloodstone is the first novel in The Curse of Time series. It follows the life of Amelina as she tries to adjust to the tough life of a teenager, while also dealing with the fact that her family and the house they live in seem to be cursed. Amelina takes it upon herself, and her gift for using crystal magic, to purge this curse from her loved ones.

Bloodstone is an entertaining novel, well written with interesting characters. Its chapters are short and quick reads, making this a perfect ‘one more chapter before bed’ book. A quality that kept me up late the two days I was reading through this book.

The author does a wonderful job of capturing the drama of the teenage life, keeping up the tension between friends over topics that are relatable to anyone who remembers their teenage years.

Naturally, as this is the first book of a series there are several questions left unanswered, though the author did a wonderful job of wrapping up the main story of this book, I have high hopes that future additions to the series will answer questions that are left hanging like the proverbial loose strings.

So is Bloodstone worth reading? Yes, a fantastic option for fans of contemporary fantasy. Pick it up and enjoy the haunting life of Amelina. I know I am craving more.

The Warden by John Richter – A review

The Warden is an interesting tale. The story taking place in both the present and a few years from now. The story centers on a world desperately trying to cope with advancing COVID complications as well as how the people being tucked away at home have allowed tech companies to flourish where many other industries have taken horrible hits to their ability to keep their doors open. Many non-essential human workers have been replaced by automated and easy to deal with mechanical workers. All things that are rather relatable in our current world, making the story feel believable, even towards the obviously fictitious parts.

Beyond being relatable in our even changing and coping world, The Warden is told from the perspective of multiple characters. A man who lives in a tower run by an AI created to cater to the needs of people in a world where they cannot leave their homes because of the possibility of a horrible death by illness, the woman who created the AI, and the AI itself. These characters are all well made, their needs and desires folded out nicely creating wonderfully well rounded characters. Even the AI has an interesting personality that makes its actions and reasoning work well in the story.

The story itself is a speculative fiction wonderland that constantly left me wondering what would happen next. Even ending the book on a note that could scream for a sequel but also leaves the story on enough of a mysterious note that fits so well with the rest of the story that the unknown feels like a satisfying close to the story.

So in short, is The Warden worth reading? If you are in to modern day science fiction and mysteries, I would heavily suggest picking this up!

The Family Man – Book Review

The Family Man by Anna Willett is a fantastic novel following the story of an Australian police detective Veronika Pope as she and her team do their best to solve a case that has been cold for years after a video containing the torture of four people in found in a couples attic while the renovate thier new home.

The story focuses mainly on Veronika and her peers as she tries to pull the pieces of a complicated and dark, cold case. The villain they are after, while dead, was a very deranged man who seemed to have very little issue treating those around him with the foulest of intentions. I will not go further in to the story to avoid spoilers, but some it is a dark tale.

The characters of The Family Man are all well written with backgrounds that fit well in to the story as a whole. The main character, Veronika, is a well developed female character. While described in an attractive person, there is no forced love story to take away from the police work. And while there is some implied romance, it is a strictly background story. This gives more focus on the characters intelligence, leading to an impressive female lead, which can be fairly difficult in darker novels.

So is The Family man worth reading? Most certainly. Pick up this novel to get your cold case mystery thrill and so much more.

The Numbers Game – Novella Review

The Numbers Game by Miles Watson is a novella following Maurice a RAF pilot during World War II. While he is a capable pilot, Maurice is more interested in numbers and figures. A mathematician to an almost oppressive point, he takes comfort and depends entirely on these numerical facts. Disregarding the other variables in life, such a luck. 

Feeling himself secure in knowing when everyone, even himself, will finally die in the complicated war, he finds himself in an odd place when things do not work out exactly as expected.

The Numbers Game is a great novella, worth picking up if you have a few hours to kill, or just in general looking for a great read. The main character’s obsessive fascination with numbers feels real. Who would not be clinging desperately to whatever they can hold on to during one of the bloodiest wars in history? Even in times a peace, people in hard times need something to cling to.

Pick up The Numbers Game if you are interested in historical fiction. This WWII tale will keep you interested till the end.

Ronin Cleans His Room Like a Ninja – Book Review

Ronin Cleans His Room Like a Ninja is a children’s book by Chris Roy. It is about a little boy who does not like being told what he has to do. So while his parents are on a trip and he is left in the care of his uncle, his uncle suggests Ronin use his desire to be a ninja to clean his room!

I read this story on the Kindle and have to say that it was an excellent choice. Amazon provides an excellent way to view the book, making each image and page of text show up individually, giving you a little adventure to swipe through while you go through Ronin’s bedroom cleaning ninja training.

The story is cute and you leave it with a smile, plus the effect of the book certainly gives some fun ideas to try to get children to clean their room, just like Ronin did!

Blood Queen – Book Review

Blood Queen is the last book in the Divine Series written by S.M. McCoy. For three books, we have grown and suffered with Chrystal while she desperately attempts to navigate the world of the supernatural, and the usual sufferings of a teenage girl. Though perhaps a bit more extreme when you’re a demon, and a vampire… and a diviner. The girl has a lot on her plate! 

In Blood Queen we are reunited with a collection of well-written characters from the previous books and a few new experiences. Chrystal is reunited with loves, enemies and frenimies that end up meaning more to her than she ever would have thought. The story itself gives us a much more in-depth look at the world of the supernatural of the Divine Series, given this book takes place entirely in the deepest and darkest corners of their world. This gives us more of an idea of the world as a whole, which, while covered in the first two books, had a lot of questions left to answer about it.

Blood Queen does a fair job of completing the Divine Series, allowing Chrystal to find her destiny, even if it was not what she planned when she first went in to this dark adventure, honestly how it ended was a bit of a surprise to me as well. As with the first two books, Chrystal has a bit of sexual tension with her male associates, making the book perhaps not the best choice for a younger audience, though certainly much cleaner than many books in the same genre. 

My only real complaint was while Chrystal’s story was wrapped up nicely in this book, I wondered what happened to some of the side characters after all was said and done. As with the other books, S.M. McCoy did a fine job with following the story. This book was a bit different from the previous two as while most of the story takes place in the first person, as told by Chrystal, there are also a few chapters told in the third person that cover Lathar’s actions. And boy, does that man get in to some pickles. 

So is Blood Queen worth the read? If you enjoy paranormal fantasy of any type, and a bit of romance, never mind a hunky vampire, this is a must read! Oh, make sure you read the first two before you pick this up or you will have absolutely no idea what is going on! But the series is a great read so you should have a blast!

You can find more information here at Reedsy Discovery where I picked up the ARC copy of this book

The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu Review and Interview with Tom Vator

I was not sure of what I was getting into when I picked up The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu. I tend to stick to certain genres I enjoy and only slip out of them to read books that are sent my way. Though the lovely people who do the Blackthorn Book Tours always offer up quality books so I was looking forward to reading this novel. And my oh my, this book was one hell of a trip.

This story happens in different periods of time. 1976 and 2000. The story in the 70s follows a group of hippies on a drug fueled tour through Asia. Along the way, they meet amazing people, dangerous people, and even lose some people. While the story that takes place in 2000 follows the remainders of the group, plus one adult son, through the side effects of their younger, though perhaps just as wild, days. Danger seems to follow this group, and old grudges spring up in the most insane ways with an ending that leaves you thinking “Well, damn!” 

One of the most fascinating aspects of this book is that the stories are told side by side. One chapter will have information regarding the 1976 story, while the next may cover the 2000 story. This allows some aspects of the earlier story to be a bit of a mystery till you get closer to the end of the book, leaving one wanting to come back for more.

So is The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu worth ready? Oh yes, pick up this book!

In addition to this review, I have an interview with author Tom Vator I will share below. He was kind enough to share with me the answers to a few questions regarding how he writes, how he comes up with characters, and his processes. You can find it below. I have made sure to mark questions and answers with our names for ease of reading!

Tawny: How did you get into writing?

Tom: Hm, that was long process. I knew quite early on in life that I wanted to do something creative. I played in punk rock bands in my 20s, toured round Europe a lot and learned a bit about sound recording. In 1993, I traveled to Asia with a small grant of the British Library to record and document indigenous music. In 1997, in Kathmandu, I met a couple who had cycled from Europe to Nepal and were writing about it. I edited their stories and accompanied them to the local newspaper. When they managed to sell their stories, I asked the editor whether he’d take one of mine. A month later I had the weekend supplement, a long feature on Nepali traditional music. I never looked back…within a year I was writing travel guides to get by, was working on my first novel, The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu, and my first non-fiction book Beyond the Pancake Trench. All that then provided the foundation for a career in journalism, non-fiction and fiction, screenplays etc.

Tawny: What is your writing process? Do you outline and such?

Tom: I do outline – for the novel I’m working on now, The Green Panthers, an eco-thriller, not published yet, I wrote a detailed plot outline, and separate outlines for the major and even some of the minor characters. For the plot outline, I break the story down into several acts and then as I go along, even chapters. I don’t stick to the outline religiously when I write, but I try to keep the original narrative arc intact, otherwise there’s a real danger of getting lost or writing myself into a corner.

I take around 3-4 months to write a first draft of around 80000 words. Kolkata Noir is 42000 words and I wrote that in three months while researching my subjects, story lines and locations. I then take 8 months to a year to edit the text. It goes through many different incarnations. I get others to read it, comment and then re-edit again and again. Once a novel is with a publisher, they usually demand or suggest more changes. And they are usually right.

There’s not one moment when I think a story is perfect. At some point I reach saturation, get distracted by other writing projects or the book simply slips away and goes to the printer.

I write anywhere any time, not precious about location, mood or timing – it’s a job after all. Can’t imagine a plumber saying, ooh, today I don’t feel like laying pipes. Similar with journalistic work. There are usually deadlines. With writing fiction, I do get stuck sometimes. But usually, when I am in the flow, I leave the text for a few days, then return to it, look at the outline again and get right back into it. I have never had writer’s block, touch wood, never will.

Tawny: How do you come up with your characters?

Tom: Major and minor characters are a mixture of people I have met and characters I read about, see in news stories, or in movies. As a journalist I get to meet and interview a wide variety of people, rich and poor, crooked and straight, smart and stupid, entitled and humble etc. Some characters are really based on these real life encounters, some are entirely made up, most are a mixture of both. I do try and nail them down in character studies I commence before I start writing, and then add to as I get into the text.

Tawny: How do you come up with your stories?

Tom: I read a lot, I travel for my job (I am Southeast Asia correspondent for Reise Know How, a German travel publisher, and Thailand expert for The Daily Telegraph), pretty constantly before Covid19 hit.

For the novels, it takes me quite a long time to come up with a basic premise/central idea that is strong enough to sustain a long story. I have long lists of such ideas, but most don’t pan out. In the particular case of Kolkata Noir, I was selected as artist in residence by the Goethe Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan for the Indo-European Art Residency in Kolkata in 2019. I spent three months in Kolkata – never slept, just drifted around the city and wrote, wrote, wrote, and came up with three novellas and a short story. As I had been visiting Kolkata for many years, I decided to set one story in the past I knew (1999), the present I was observing (2019) and the future I could imagine (2039) – the latter crammed with ideas of what might become of Kolkata.

Kolkata has a fictitious detective called Feluda, the brain child of well-known art house film maker Satyajit Ray. Feluda is the city’s equivalent of Sherlock Holmes. I would never dare to write a Feluda story, but I did create a female character for Kolkata Noir, a police inspectress who’s his grand-niece.

Tawny: Do you read yourself? And if so what genre do you enjoy? I know they say to read what you write, but I have met authors who enjoy reading outside their genre from time to time.

Tom: Writing without reading, as anyone will tell you, is not possible. I read widely. I just saw that I have read 900 articles in The Guardian this year so far. As well as aticles in countless other publications. I read a lot of fiction, I guess two or three novels a month when I am on form and have the time. I read commercial fiction, crime fiction and espionage because that’s what I write, but I am always interested in reading other stuff – at the moment I am ploughing through a very good coming of age story set in Leningrad in WWII (City of Thieves by David Benioff) and a book about left wing and anarchist resistance to capitalism in Berlin since WWII (Berlin/Stadt der Revolte by Sontheimer/Wensierski).

Tawny: What are your hobbies outside of your writing?

Tom: I play guitar, occasionally in bands. But most of the time I travel, read and write. Being a freelance writer has been a full-time job for 25 years – that doesn’t leave all that much energy for other endeavors.

Thanks very much for giving me the opportunity to talk about my work.

Devil in the Red Dirt – Book Review

The Devil in the Red Dirt is a historical fiction novel by Michael P. Smith taking place in Australia in the mid-60s. It follows a corrupt detective, a damaged but well meaning detective and an aboriginal man who had lost his identity as they search the gorgeous and troubled physical and mental landscape of Australia seeking the demented killer of innocent children who seems to have people in power covering their tracks.

The Devil in the Red Dirt is an excellent read. It covers some incredibly difficult topics ranging from racism to child abuse to death and drug use. These difficult topics are covered in all their filthy detail, making sure this novel not for the faint of heart. If any of the topics mentioned this book easily disturb you, this book is not for you. However, I found the disturbing nature of the story made it an excellent work of fiction, and more so, an excellent mystery. Smith does an excellent job of leaving you wanting to know more and how this villain will pay for their crimes, or if the morally bankrupt society they live in will win out!

As stated before, The Devil in the Red Dirt is an excellent, though very dark, novel. The story is well written and the main characters, who are all well rounded and twisted enough to feel real. The side characters are equally intriguing. Smith has provided us with a cast of colorful and realistic criminals, creating a fantastic display of the Australian criminal world in the 60s. Even when the story slips away from the main characters, you can find yourself still interested in the activities of the background cast. This means the story avoids the dull and mind numbing side stories that can often pop up in a novel’s supporting characters. The lives of each person mentioned form in to a wonderful over arching tapestry of human failings.

The Devil in the Red Dirt is an excellent book that fans of historical fiction, crime, or mystery could enjoy. Though don’t go in to it if you’re too squeamish about the dark side of the human species.

I got my copy of Devil in The Red Dirt from Reedsy Discovery

Bald is Beautiful: A Letter for a Fabulous Girl

Bald is Beautiful: A letter for a fabulous girl, is a lovely children’s picture book by Carola Schmidt. It is about a young girl, and making the best out of being bald because of cancer treatments. It aims heavily on making sure the girl knows she is beautiful despite her lack of hair, as well as pointing out fun ways to embrace her new look. Such as a hat and scarf shower to celebrate who she is despite the trouble she is going through.

This is a children’s book, so it is short and sweet. It is an adoring love letter to a little girl. The story is filled to the brim with love. Alongside the sweet story, the pictures are sweet and colorful, making following along with the story pleasant. Despite the difficult topic of the book, this story makes you feel good to read. It shows the desire to make the best out of a difficult situation. One leaves the book smiling despite the topic.

It is a brilliant book for children to read, particularly those who are going through, or know someone, going through difficulties with cancer.

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