Surfing with Snakes & Dragons- Roger J. Couture

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We read in the minds of characters, which are all by degree, hedonistic, narcissistic, masochistic, and deeply psychologically introverted. That doesn’t mean that they are necessarily uncaring and detached from others, far from it. But deep exploration of subject character is so much the essence of these individualistic snakes and dragons. All the characters are flawed, troubled by the direction of their lives, and struggling between living for the moment and their worldly, practical, daily responsibilities, by concern for their own well-being and that of others. None of the main characters are uncaring of others, but they are all certainly self-absorbed. Perhaps most of us are, perhaps that is the message?

Couture quite probably exposes more of the conflicts in himself than those of others through these stories, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t also extremely observant of how others see their worlds. He writes in a highly descriptive, word-rich, and psychologically penetrating style. At times he borders on repetitive description and on says too much about what has surely already been deduced by any fully engaged reader, but he writes with such poetry, such cadence, that the overflow of description can easily be forgiven. Ultimately, nothing is decided, but every consideration is explored, possibility is left hanging, food for thought. Life is drawn to the extreme, to the fear, to toy with danger, and to them contemplate what it is that makes people repeat behaviour again and again. Couture writes with particular conviction about what it is to be a dedicated surfer, clearly a sometime overriding passion in his own life. But there is much more here, beyond the draw of the pounding sea. However, I recommend mixing the eight reads, as, for me, we start with rather too much abundant surf. There is connectivity between each story, characters spilling from one to the other, but these are truly independent constructions that can be shuffled like the cards in a single suit.

The poems at the start of each story acted as mood setters for the rich poetry of prose inside. A lot of this book is an exploration of the ‘adrenaline’ in life, in sport, in personal relationships, and at times raises one’s own hormonal beat, but this isn’t writing for the lover of the pacey thriller. This is writing for the lover of literature, for the lover of detail, for the contemplative, for those that like to enjoy the journey of an adventure rather than necessarily the climb to peak tension and final relieving climax. If one likes descriptive writing, and the analysis of what makes people tic, then this series of stories is for you. I might call these essays on the waves in life rather than stories with firmly placed beginnings or any definitive endings.

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The Master of The Name- Tavi Florescu

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Master of the Name was for me an intriguing read, despite, or even perhaps because, it seriously challenged my knowledge base. However, I have to say that being so stretched is a mixed blessing when reading a fiction novel. I’m certain that I would have had an easier time with a stronger sense of where facts and cultural beliefs end and storytelling starts. I did wonder, particularly in the opening chapters, whether the story really benefitted from such complexity. However, the package is certainly worth a little effort, and since my reading has inspired me to investigate some very ancient, mostly Jewish, religious ‘stories’. I’m sure that even the most erudite should read on without worrying over much about the historically based elements that escape immediate understanding. This is after all an entertainment, which though strengthened by factual content doesn’t require any truths.

As to the power of words, especially names, I have no trouble getting that. Words certainly have power, both for good and evil. In this book, as in the real lives of many, even in our modern age, the very name of God has terrifying power. That physical power is held in religious text is certainly something that many religious people of varied faiths believe. Indeed, one may well be aware of the convention of avoiding writing or speaking the ‘true’ name of God, an idea appearing in by degrees in almost all mainstream religions. We can’t know what God calls himself, so then enabling priests of diverse colours to empower themselves.

Linguistics is powerful enough simply in lay usage, dictating so much that goes well and badly in relationships between individuals, ‘tribes’, and nations. When competing religions gets involved in the battle of words then poison soon flows.

At times, I felt that the backstory threatened to strangle the hunt for the murderer, to be dragging me too far from police tracks. I encourage those that have similar thoughts to read on, and perhaps enjoy a Wiki search for information when they have finished: as was my course. The ending is a revelation.

Tavi Florescu has woven his extensive knowledge base into a most exotic detective story. Whether he gets the balance correct between the background and the chase will depend on the individual reader’s preferences. This is a well written novel, which while defying conventional pigeonholing is certainly good literary fiction. As to the detective, I think I would be less intimidated by almost any ‘frankensteinian’ creations. Detective Gray and his pencil are not lightly crossed.

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Fidget Spinners Destroyed My Family- George Billions

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This is a social drama, a psychological dystopian descent, about the self-destruction of a classic mum, dad, two children and cat family. The story slips genre into black comedy and momentarily into horror of the plausible variety, always so much more disconcerting than ghouls and zombies. This is a novella, which a fast reader may well consume in one sitting. The book could easily have been longer, though possibly that would have diluted the constantly disturbing buzz in its pages.

This story is very well written, with clear flowing prose and only a few typos. The story is narrated through the first-person mother with a very realistic feeling voice. I felt that I was sitting listening to the mother’s distressed, sometimes questionable, and less that sober first-hand narrative, rather than, as we are directed to believe, a story cobbled together by the author from episodic conversations.

My only complaint about the story was the abrupt ending. I would have liked to hear the completed story of the family from the tragic peak we are left on. I feel a need to know if disintegration or renovation of the mother to child relationships was the eventual outcome.

I had a sort of personal interest in the story that only added to its poignancy, one that is all too common in western culture. I have lost a parent through the ravages of alcohol. But believe me, such a direct connection isn’t a required ingredient for one to get the full taste of this sad tale.

I have an issue with the cover as on the book at this date, September 2017, in that it really doesn’t reflect the content. The big youthful, blood-smeared, smile gives the impression that one is in for some sort of zany horror comedy. That isn’t the case. Too many books are falsely sold, or not, by misleading covers. This book doesn’t need a creepy cover to sell it, just the publicity it deserves, which I like to think will be boosted by this and other reviews. True or not, the family disassociations and disintegration explored in this social drama are tragically reflected to varying degrees in many real lives.

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Edging- Michael Schutz

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An intense read, high on adrenaline to the end. Not all the loops in the story quite join at the end, though some of this is almost certainly intentional as Schutz sets his readers of for a second edging. There are a few copy errors, but none that came close to spoiling my read.

In my view, the book has a little too much pace to it to really built the horror, increasingly lacking a juxtaposition between normality and evil abnormality which really put’s teeth on edge. So not quite Mary Shelly or Steven King, but a great read by any standards. This is very much the sort of book that I would be happy picking up as a pot-luck read from the airport lounge.

As to the plot, I am inclined to make the noun plural. There are many elements that might have been better divided into two separate stories. The first, about the drug culture and it’s dangers to society was by far the most powerful. The second plot, the devil working through the minds of his devotees and captured souls and the physical manifestation of his evil, provided the meat of the climatic ending but lacked the conviction of the narcotic story. There is connection between the two plots, but not a direct and strong enough one for my liking. Perhaps Edging II will bind the plots together with more conviction.

Overall, I recommend this book to those that like to feel the rush of a fast paced, edge-of-seat entertainment. Reading this is like watching a movie, exciting but lacking enough detail to properly join all the dots, entertainment trumping exacting plot, rather than a book plot stripped of logical continuity in the making of a film. That doesn’t make the book unreadable any more than making an exciting movie unwatchable, on the contrary, both can be great entertainment; that being very much the case here.

This raises the question of whether this book has potential as a film. It absolutely does. With well-engineered special effects, it could be a real blockbuster.

As I did, you may want to compartmentalise the plot elements a little. But, yes, this is a quality read. I have no hesitation in awarding the five stars I do to most books that raise my interest enough to solicit a review.

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Drip (a gothic bromance)- Andrew Montlack

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I laughed a lot. I’m inclined to that with all vampire books- I mean, they can’t be real. But Montlack can make the macabre funny, frightening, possible, stupid, and yes, scary, all within a few sentences. Drip is a good book, whether one reads with a focus on pure comedy or as satirical horror/speculative fiction. The words are well put together. I’m glad this was written as a straight book, rather than an adult comic, as books are always better if one is free to paint one’s own pictures. Films have damaged so many good books. Montlack is very much out of the multi-media suite; being a jack of many trades doesn’t always work, but I’m pleased to report that this is great entertainment.

There are some great characters. JD and George apart, I have to say, I was quite drawn to Cerri. If I feel through the proverbial rabbit hole into the plot, her relative sanity, and certain attractive qualities, would have made her my go to person. This book has loads of the old vampire stuff in a fashionable modern environment, mainly that of big business. Think bloodsucking bankers, except that they are not bankers, in what is on one level an often-seen story of business greed. On other levels, it’s one that quickly slips off the path of sanity.

Reading this had me in a sort of split hemisphere frame of mind, one side, left or right, up or down, whatever, was laughing at every other line; the other was all, “This is getting quite worrying, almost scary”. There are few original ideas, are there ever, but Montlack puts those he uses together in a very individual way. What’s to say?-  Except, read it!

Now, how did I write all that without a gulp of coffee?

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Thread and Other Stories- Eric Halpenny

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This is a set of short stories for those that like to be made to think whilst being entertained. Each story draws us to different views of our sentient being, and may well work differently for individual readers with differing life experiences. In my case, ‘Conflict’ was the story that resonated most deeply for me. This is a book that clearly sits on the contemporary fiction, literary, shelves, a vague classification though it is. Perhaps I may build a shelf labelled contemporary fiction musings.

So then, this isn’t a set of adrenal thrills, isn’t all about those fashion icons, plot and character, though Halpenny certainly writes with style as he pulls us deep into different fictional consciousnesses. This is reading for those that like nutritious input rather than the crude modern hits of sugar salt and hot pepper. There is a thread of sorts through these stories, that being the nature of reality.

These aren’t the classic short stories for a half-conscious read on the commute to work. They need quiet time and certainly benefit from undivided concentration. They are worthwhile stories for possibly short, but always deep, quiet moments.

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The Nosferatu Chronicles: Origins- Susan Hamilton

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I love this book, particularly as a really inventive piece of speculative fiction. Hamilton does a top job of drawing together the horror genre classic vampire and the science fiction genre, specifically the sub-category of visitations from other civilisations.

This is pure fiction that makes some use of documented historical facts and their possible interpretation, in order to build a credible vampire backstory. Nothing in the book is particularly novel, but the speculative thought and the unique way Hamilton puts the story together is both clever and very exciting. I actually became quite fond of her race of space travelling vampires, and even found myself excusing their arriving on, and manipulation of, our unique planet.

I have always struggled with the logic behind the ‘humanistic vampire’; I struggle with all fantasy and legend that seems over disconnected from observed reality. Hamilton does a very neat job of creating a possible explanation and speculative history behind that horror genre. All the classic stuff is there, from wooden stakes to vulnerability to sunlight, and all within a new logic framework. Well, obviously this is all fantasy, however, the writing is strong enough that it allowed me to effortlessly suspend belief in the world as it appears. One can’t ask more of a speculative fiction book. Hamilton has for me managed to put the vampire legend on science fiction shelves.

There is already a second book in the series, which I’m yet to read. I surely will. The first was a real page turner for me.

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The Last Detective- Brian Cohn

The Last Detective

Mixed genre- well put together; no, very well put together. Those that love murder mystery will find themselves comfortably stationed within a science fiction world and vice versa. I love writing that can shatter walls between genres, between readers fixed ideas of like, and this book does that well.

We are in a recently invaded world by a civilisation of ‘slicks’ that mankind is still far short of understanding. Human society is in a state of decay, if not quite chaotic dissolution, as the alien culture imposes certain disciplines whilst leaving humans with a veneer of independence. Any independence is apparently dependent on an absence of resistance. Regular mass deportations to destinations unknown, are ‘accepted’ by the human administrations. One can’t help but make comparisons between the slicks as quasi Nazi or Starlin’s cabal. Perhaps those born in this century would relate better to comparison with the current, alien to humanitarian values, regime of Kim Jong-Un.

When an alien is apparently murdered the aliens find cause for an investigation by what remains of a human police force. Painstakingly Adrian, the last pre-invasion trained detective, puts the pieces of the case together despite the lack of resources and technologies still at his disposal.

The principle human characters are well drawn, and the unfolding of the crime is crafted in a very compelling way. This is a case for an old-time sleuth, not a ‘slick’ crime lab. Um: pun intended.

As an independent writer and a strong advocate of my peers, I am delighted to be able to report this book as being a good example of the quality achievable outside of the traditional publishing empires. Pandamoon are one of many new small publishers. I’m certainly not in any position to endorse them, but I can say that they have at least one good writer aboard.

Well written and, apart from a few lapses, well edited.

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Coyote Sunrise- Nikki Broadwell

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Provided one can suspend all logic to the point of accepting the idea of ‘shape-shifting’, meaning the metamorphosis of one species of creature into another, there is plenty to enjoy in this book. The concept is found in a vast repertoire of paranormal writing, so obviously, a great many readers embrace the concept. Alas, I don’t. However, illogically perhaps when I can’t abide the idea of species shifting, I love writing that ‘humanises’ the world of animals. And surely it is this augmentation of the animal world to point out our cruelties, our savagery, that is the point of this book.

I like the way that Broadwell uses animalistic mythologies to bring together a wealth of political, cultural and social concepts, which generally enfold ideas of individual liberty and equal rights. The humanising of animals, and the animalistic tendencies of humans are explored in depth, if rather repetitively. Some of the plot elements were certainly over used, to the degree that the read would have far more punch if reduced by a third in length.

The page to page reading experience is very good, with first class character development, and Broadwell’s storytelling and writing crafts bring out deep, individualistic, emotional currents. I haven’t read the first part of the saga, but felt no penalties from that. There are no hanging story lines that aren’t properly explained.

I was particularly drawn to the script by the fact that the author clearly feels that we live in a world which has become too much the environment of mankind, to the detriment of nearly all other creatures. A return to native cultures living in harmony with nature, away from those that simply steal from nature whatever they desire, may be utopian; but at least it can exist in a world of books, a world of imagination, and if it can be imagined then just perhaps it is somehow possible. Broadwell is a little soft on the main predator species, but hopefully book three will get down to the business of removing men from the cayotes world, or at least those mentally sick killers that don’t respect the idea of, and reach out for, a fair balance of nature.

Those humans that see sport in the hunt should be the sport of the hunt.

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Finding Freedom- Brittany Nicole Lewis

Finding Freedom

I was expecting a book full of violence, both physical and psychological, with layers of cruel malevolence driving its agenda. This read isn’t like that. This is a quiet pastiche, a sensitive unravelling of years of mental mind-washing, the story of well-planned escape and months of gradual adjustment to life outside of a closed, controlling community.

Those that expect to read about physical violence and a dangerous escape from it, will be disappointed, unless like me they find something ‘spiritually’ rewarding. This is a book that deals with the evils of abusive control and the immense difficulty victims of such authority have adjusting to the freedoms of liberal society. The subject matter is all North American, but the psychology of it applies wherever individuals struggle to escape constraining ‘walls’. Many of the issues raised are as applicable to whole populations, nations, as they are to individual humans.

The book is well enough written, in a simple non-intrusive style, with ‘christian’ belief strongly emblazoned by Lewis’s words. The read is gentle and rewarding, quietly preaching the author’s private convictions. I feel most comfortable describing this as Christian social drama. I feel that those that have escaped, or are contemplating escape from the dominion of other’s, whether to find their own space with God, or to the most secular of lives, will find this a rewarding read. The cult isn’t defeated but, by the end, its effects on the minds of some are ameliorated. The main lesson is that it isn’t easy to take responsibility for one’s future from a long-term suppressing evil, to risk escape, but that the light at the end of the tunnel can be reached, and is worth reaching for.

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