Friday, 2 March 2018

Book Review: My Hungry Friend by Daniel Barnett

My Hungry FriendMy Hungry Friend by Daniel Barnett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My Hungry Friend is a tightly written story that deals with the horrors of Alzheimer's, both literal and metaphorical. Mike Roberts commits an atrocious act in the opening pages which doesn't exactly endear him to the reader (who kicks a homeless person's cup of change?!) but we soon learn the mindset behind what he was feeling that day, and why he felt the need to 'kick out'. Having previously read Daniel's Longreave, one of his strengths is creating multifaceted characters, and as the story evolves, so do the layers within Mike.

Trying to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, Mike struggles to look after his mother who suffers from Alzheimers. The concept of cracks opening in her mind, through which she becomes more and more lost, translate to Mike through his fears of hereditary Alzheimer's, but then those fears also become real as the homeless woman enacts her revenge on him. This reflection is well done, and even leads to some slight ambiguity towards the end with regards to Mike's lover.

If this was a straight literary book, there could have been more exploration of this; his mother wasn't used as I thought she might have been used, in fact it was all kept very real. But as a horror, it was sufficient: bring on the spiders!

Arachnophobes, beware! Spiders, spiders everywhere. Daniel's writing style ramps up the tension as the darkness begins to unveil itself, and as things not of this Earth begin to creep across Mike's skin. There are also a few moments of cringe-horror taken from reality, the kind of thing that must happen every day but we don't like to think about. And as horrific as some of these moments are, there are also some sweet moments; Mike's love for his mother and Cassie, (she leaves the room and suddenly the room returns to existence).

Longreave was a high bar, and more of an epic (having multiple POV) so My Hungry Friend feels smaller compared to that. Almost like an extended short story. But still, a very enjoyable read, and if Goodreads would allow another half-star it would get it from me.

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Monday, 26 February 2018

Neon Sands KindleScout & reading update

I'm not reading half as much as I wish I was! Something about writing a book that is all consuming... hmm, I wonder what that could be.

However, I am currently taking a break with Daniel Barnett's 'My Hungry Friend' (which you can find on Goodreads here). His book, Longreave, is my favourite indie book to date, so I'm looking forward to getting stuck in.

It's also the final week of Neon Sands' Kindle Scout campaign. It started really well but then began to flounder in the pool of words and titles on offer. I barely marketed it when it was 'Hot & Trending' and when it fell out of that category, it was a killer. Went from 400-500 pagereads a day to single and double figures. If you want to put your book on Kindle Scout, never let up on the marketing!

Still, you never know, it could be picking up the nominations in the background without the numbers of pagereads (that's not a stat you're allowed to see). Either way, it's good publicity, and has taught me a lesson in case I try the same approach again.

If you haven't checked Neon Sands out yet, you can do so from here. It's book one in the first trilogy of three trilogies, with mysteries to discover, strange technologies, and sand to clean from eyes and otherwise clean cracks. It gets everywhere.

Read the Ends Meat short story introduction.

Friday, 23 February 2018

BOOK review: Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides

My favourite author is such and such, this guy or that gal. We list them off like old friends, knowing we share a private stash of memories; even if someone else was present their experience of the same moments will have been different. The list becomes commonplace, and we become complacent in our recitation of it. It’s easy to remember that we may like something, but more difficult to remember why we liked that something in the first place. And when that something is a Jeffrey Eugenides book, with countless yawning years between each release, the remembered joy of the pages remain while the words that caused it may fade.

So, good to see you old friend. I have a fresh complaint – that you don’t visit more often! There wasn’t one story in this collection I didn’t enjoy. They’re all vignettes of sometimes poignant and sometimes mundane moments in life. There’s life and death and tragedy, apathy and sex and emotional dysentery. Each story is best experienced spoiler free, so what I’m going to do is just take a favourite line from each for you to enjoy.

The Economy of Trickle Down

Whenever you hear that there is going to be a tax-cut, what your government is actually doing is giving you a massive middle-finger. They're telling you in no uncertain terms that they don't give a damn about you, that they exist purely to line the pockets of the powerful.

Here in the UK, and recently in the USA, we have a corporation tax so low even Mini-me would struggle to limbo beneath without risk of decapitation. Additionally, both the Tories and the Trump administration, under different guises, have put more money into the pockets of the average Joe, through personal income tax threshold raises and higher allowances. A ruse, to make it seem as though we have more money when in fact we don't. It says, we're giving these corporations a break, and you too! Everyone wins!

DailyFlash: Neon Knight Art

Alvaro Escudero took my Neon Knight flash fiction and created this awesome piece of artwork - all cyberpunk and glittering. You can check out how he did it by clicking here.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Short Story: Accident

He had the most boring job in the city – for real – it ranked bottom in a Kingdom-wide satisfaction survey. Traffic control warden. There were only six of them, and they rotated in eight-hour shifts, two a shift; relinquishing their soft, warm seat and sweat-sticky headset to the next with a wordless, faceless expression.
                An expression that didn’t change.
                He could see through the ‘eyes’ of the drones and direct their movement through the headset and from the ‘comfort’ of the office. There were physical monitors too for when the heavy feeling on the eyes became too much, but for the most part, that faint blue glimmer of the screens was a pale facsimile of light on his skin and nothing more.
                Two minutes into a shift and he became a dislocated entity, a city-bird without a roost.
                A little longer and red triangles flashed in his periphery. An accident. Two traffic control drones were needed on the A5 road. He despatched them and connected to their cameras; autocars shifted in synchronicity around him, keeping their distance and speed in check. As he got nearer to the accident he began to overtake them as their speed decreased, and then stopped altogether. Up ahead, one autocar had overturned. The wheels hadn’t thought to stop turning.

Friday, 9 February 2018

DailyFlash: Crawling the sands

Inside the forward cockpit was a beep. The metal detector had detected something large; it stretched long and metallic left-to-right, or perhaps right-to-left, before them. Walker brought the crawler to a stop and the last few track revolutions dug into the sand before finally halting.
                He sent Caia out to investigate. She dropped to the sand, blower on back and sand-boots on feet, and walked forward, sweeping the blower in arc before her. The sand swirled up and became a red mist around her. She pulled the scarf around her face a little tighter.
                A shiny green surface appeared just below her. The more sand she cleared the clearer the pipe became, arching over to the other side. She removed her hands to touch it and felt vibrations running through her arm, and when she placed her ear to the cool metal, the sound of gushing water bellowed.

This flash fiction was inspired by the world of Neon Sands, the first in a trilogy currently accepting nominations on Kindle Scout. Like this world and want to read more? Please vote for Neon Sands on Kindle Scout and get a free copy!

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Short Story: Ends Meat

There it was again – the smell. Barrick glanced at his father, who had his eyes closed but he probably wasn’t asleep, just too exhausted by hunger to keep them open. His cheeks were shallow, as though sucking air, his lips two thin lines of scabs.
                Father’s hemp shirt had become a shawl these last few weeks. The same was true for Barrick, his brothers and his sister.
                Finally, father’s eyes opened, his nostrils twitched, and with energy summoned from a dark place, he rose. “Again…” he said, barely moving his lips; tension in the jaw and scabs that would split.
                “I don’t know how they can do it,” said mother, head limp and resting on her raised knees.
                Father swung his legs from the bed and stared into space. The look was a disease, and they all had it. Barrick had seen it first in the faces of the eldest; at night, sharing a bowl of thin soup and disappearing as the first songs began, taking a bottle of moonshine with them. One by one, others caught the look and stopped turning up at all. He’d see them by day, afflicted by the vacant gaze as they sat beside the transparent wall of the dome. They’d stare at the sands but Barrick had no idea what they were looking at; perhaps they saw mirages of visiting caravans that no longer came.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

DailyFlash: Within Means

“How do you want them?” asked Mireille.
     The wanderer held her rations out. The temptation to eat them right away had slowly vanished the older she got. Now it was the exact opposite. “Dried.”
     Mireille took the fruit from her hands and placed them in the condenser. In an hour, the grapes would be raisins, the apples one third their size and hard, and all the liquid would be collected in the bottles. They would make a nice meal out on the sands, sometimes accompanied by jerked meat.
     It used to be a challenge to spread the meals out; make it last as long as possible. Now, she’d find shelter and be surprised by how much she still had left. Might even take fewer rations than offered.
     “Can I trade these for extra clothes anywhere?” she asked.
     Mireille looked at her as though she was crazy.

This flash fiction was inspired by the world of Neon Sands, the first in a trilogy currently accepting nominations on Kindle Scout. Like this world and want to read more? Please vote for Neon Sands on Kindle Scout and get a free copy!

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

DailyFlash: Lightning Rainbow

"The rains are coming on! The rains are coming on!" shouted the little boy. He jumped into an excited run and tried to pull his sister with him.
     She stood, knowing there was no need to rush. There was a little bubble of excitement within, but it wasn't quite as big as it used to be.
     The boy lead the way, bounding up the stairwell from level three where he shared accommodation with his family - and a few others. Neon strip-lights lit up as he passed beneath them. The girl watched him disappear into the courtyard of the dome through heavy double doors that swung back into her face.
     In the courtyard her brother was already standing with his friends, waiting for the weekly shower.
     "30 seconds..." said Kirillion's voice over the loudspeaker. The girl looked up to the apex of the dome and the saucer-shaped shadow of the watchtower from where Kirillion spoke. Where the important things were done.
     Then it began. The pipes that ran adjacent to the shaft leading to the watchtower gushed with water. She put a hand on one and could feel it vibrate. At the top, the pipe passed from their dome and into the outer dome - the Agridome - and there; they watched as the water cascaded in a rainpour they could see, but not feel.
     Lightning rainbows shimmered on the inner lining as the rain made its way down to the crops below, and all the kids "wooowed" in wonder.

This flash fiction was inspired by the world of Neon Sands, the first in a trilogy currently accepting nominations on Kindle Scout. Like this world and want to read more? Please vote for Neon Sands on Kindle Scout and get a free copy!

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Neon Sands - Kindle Scout Nominations

Hi everybody! The first book in the Neon Sands trilogy is now up on Kindle Scout awaiting nominations.

Link spam:

What is Kindle Scout? It's an Amazon affiliate - if a book gets enough votes in a 30 day period, they publish it and market it, making the whole exercise a lot easier for the self-published authors. Voters also get a free copy!

Link spam:

Sand like powder smothers the decimated planet; those that eke an existence scavenge and utilise old technologies they barely understand, wanderers drifting from outpost to outpost. But the sand hides secrets, and when it shifts, questions unasked and allegiances long forged are challenged. What else is the sand hiding? A sci-fi/punk adventure in an inhospitable landscape, Neon Sands is the opening book in an epic series that will explore Man’s technological and innate potential, and the search for hope when all looks bleak.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Book Review: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust, #1)La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

His Dark Materials is up there with my favourite books so it was a pleasurable, warm and cosy return to the alt-Oxford world of daemons and anti-religiosity. Set before the first trilogy, it introduces Malcolm Polstead who charges himself with protecting a baby Lyra from forces that want her for their own needs, and from a 40-days and 40-nights style flood.

The writing is beautiful and the story is great; the first half being a reintroduction to the world, told leisurely, with the second half ramping up the tension and action as a chase on the water ensues. There is a sense early on that you are still reading the book's introduction, despite being a couple hundred words in, but then you realise you have become immersed in it.

Malcolm as a character, and latterly Alice (who is forced into the journey too) both grow and develop as the story winds on, escaping the one-dimensional traits. And we meet some old (young) characters from His Dark Materials too, but they don't interfere too much. With the next one set 20 years after this, I do wonder about the pertinence of this story and how it will add to the whole, especially with the introduction of certain important characters. 20 years sees like a loooong time to jump ahead...

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Friday, 15 December 2017

Book Review: The Dead Silence by Jane B

The Dead SilenceThe Dead Silence by Jane B.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a weird one; extra stars given here for the subject matter itself and not the story or characters or way it is told. This is a book about the various psychoses surrounding motherhood, and in particular, the negative ones; it does a great job of detailing these and opening your eyes to postpartum depression, and a whole host of other disorders, but it does so at the expense of everything else. The exploration is sometimes essay-like, and always through conversation, the problem being that you could interchange who was speaking and it wouldn't matter. There's even one moment where Anna, suffering from a disorder and in a counselling session with Dr Sam Haley, who up until now has spoken in barely legible broken sentences, suddenly opens up and has a deep, philosophical revelation, all to get a point across it seems.

The information in the book is important, but as a novel, could have been handled better. We follow Sam Haley around as he talks to mothers, holds counselling sessions and explores what he wants to do with his life. But he, like many of the characters, are often vessels for the message being told. He's a good man, but he's one-dimensional. The most interesting moments, and the most depressing, are when we are seeing through the eyes of Anna, or her mother, Maria, in a plot that explores more directly this interaction. There's also a plot involving Sam's secretary, but I'm not entirely sure what this adds to the story. Perhaps a sense of foreboding, which if true is actually displayed with a good sense of understatement, sometimes missing in indie work I have read recently.

One question that always arises with indie work is the writing and editing: here, while it does need another edit to clear up some grammar issues which are just errors, an edit couldn't really help the writing style which is perfectly readable, but does sometimes read as though English was a second language for the writer. This works well for the Anna sequences, but not so well for the doctor sequences. One more slight quibble is that if there is more than one character in a scene, the POV will move freely between them, which is slightly jarring.

Overall, worth reading for the message it has to tell.

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Thursday, 23 November 2017

Neon Sands nearly complete

I've had a lot of fun writing this book and I can't wait for people to be able to read it. It's the first in the Neon trilogy of trilogies and sets the series up perfectly. I'm also conscious of not having it end with a massive cliffhanger - it may be an opening book but it's also important for it to have a beginning, middle and an end. I know how I'd feel if there wasn't at least some resolution to some arcs.

The cover will need a bit of tweaking, the manuscript editing, and then proofs ordered. I may also try this on Kindle Scout, so watch this space.

Sand like powder smothers the decimated planet; those that eke an existence scavenge and utilise old technologies they barely understand, wanderers drifting from outpost to outpost. But the sand hides secrets, and when it shifts, questions unasked and allegiances long forged are challenged. What else is the sand hiding? A sci-fi/punk adventure in an inhospitable landscape, Neon Sands is the opening book in an epic series that will explore Man’s technological and innate potential, and the search for hope when all looks bleak.

Add to your Goodreads shelf here:

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Horror Book Review: My Dead World by Jacqueline Druga

My Dead WorldMy Dead World by Jacqueline Druga
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Just finished and jumping straight into the review with my thoughts still fresh - just like the many wounds that are gashed or slashed or mutilated in My Dead World.

It gets an extra star for the gore and its brazen attitude towards a world taken over by a zombie virus (the Z-word that must not be mentioned. It's interesting to me who choose to call the walking dead 'zombies', and who make up other words for them. Guilty of it myself. In the real world, for sake of ease of description when chatting to other people you'd end up just calling them zombies, right?)

While I did enjoy the read for the horror and gore, it also had me shaking my head in disbelief over some choices the characters made, and it became apparent that there were outside forces at play who didn't want everyone to live til the end of the book, despite having prepared so well and having so much info about the virus beforehand. Ergo complacency.

Nila and her family are forewarned by her CDC brother to start preparing an apocalypse shelter, using the cabin they own in the mountains. This thing is stocked, fenced, and everything. Yet shit still continued to hit the fan. Complacent little things that the characters, or, more prominently Nila, kept doing to endanger them kept pulling me out of the story whenever it was hotting up.

I guess it highlights the reality of the layman, that whenever I wanted Nila to turn it around and step up, she couldn't, letting emotion lead the way, leaving space for mistakes. Maybe that's what the majority of people would be like, but you'd like to think they'd catch on quicker. (Just a little too much indecision and second-guessing going on perhaps.)

And then all the death made for a bit of a sombre read in the end.

Fast-paced, lots of action, could do with another round of editing as a few errors, but a pretty accurate portrayal of a world falling apart from a ravaging virus.

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