Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Imagination Thief, by Rohan Quine

Reviewer: JJ Marsh

What we thought: Another difficult to classify book, but that’s precisely why it works so well. Part literary fiction, part fantasy, it is a surreal experience which makes the most of its equally offbeat location. With a cast of unforgettable characters and a central premise both intriguing and epic, this is what indie fiction does so very well – breaks boundaries and takes risks. In this case, it pays off.

From something as mundane as a drink from vending-machine, Jaymi unlocks an extraordinary ability: he can mine human imaginations. He wants to use this for the general good, enabling people to unlock and enjoy that inner universe. He has a plan. With his knowledge of the business and the unearthly vocal talents of his friend Alaia, he plans a broadcast like no other.

In Asbury Park, New Jersey, an abandoned holiday resort, preparations for the strangest and biggest show on earth continue. They encounter an eclectic bunch of characters; lovers, enemies, slaves and masters, all of whom provide Jaymi with a wealth of material. But information is power, and more than one person wants access.

The swooping eloquence of this book had me hypnotised. Quine leaps into pools of imagery, delighting in what words can do. The fact that the reader is lured into joining this kaleidoscopic, elemental ballet marks this out as something fresh and unusual. In addition to the language, two other elements make their mark. The seaside ghost town with echoes of the past and the absorbing, varied and rich cast of characters.

It’s a story with a concept, place and people you’ll find hard to leave.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Naked Lunch, by William Burroughs, How To Be Both, by Ali Smith, Tainted Love, by Stewart Home

Avoid if you dislike: surreal tangents, a blend of fantasy and reality, the unconventional

Ideal accompaniments: A classic Margarita with lime-salted rim, a sherbert dab and Björk’s Pagan Poetry

Genre: Literary fiction, fantasy

Available from Amazon

The Skeleton Road (Audio) by Val McDermid

Reviewer: Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter, Closure, Complicit & Crimson Shore (

What we thought: A cold case enquiry lead by DCI Karen Pirie, who is faced with the unenviable task of identifying a skeleton found with a bullet hole in its skull in a hidden part of the roof of one of Edinburgh’s disused tallest buildings.

With no DNA, fingerprints or witnesses to call on, only the latest and most in-depth technical procedures can be used to try to piece together tiny fragments of physical evidence found at the scene. Forensics put the time of death around 8-10 years ago, and rate the chances of identifying the corpse – let alone the killer – as one in a million.

But Karen Pirie is not a woman to admit defeat, and bit-by-painstaking-bit she recreates the life of the long-dead victim, using dental work as her initial guide. The journey takes her out of the comfort of her own country, firstly into the grandeur of the University city of Oxford, and then even further afield to Eastern Europe.

As the victim’s past catches up with the present, and age-old conflicts raise their heads, it appears Karen is not the only person seeking the same killer. But will she solve the case and get to person in time? With her own world consumed with personal problems, Karen is in a battle against time to save further deaths - all born from revenge and a long-forgotten conflict.

I'm a huge fan of Val McDermid's writing, both in terms of writing excellence and story content. This was another gripping page turner from start to finish which I'd highly recommend.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Ian Rankin, Peter James, Peter May.

Avoid if you don’t like: Cold cases, the Balkans, retribution and lies.

Ideal accompaniments: Stewed meat (locally caught) with rice and flatbread, washed down with vodka and apple juice.

Genre: Crime Fiction

Dragon Marked: Supernatural Prison #1 by Jaymin Eve

Reviewer: JW Hicks author of Rats.

What we thought: This book is described as YA fiction for the 17+ age group and is clearly written for teens – Marvel comic style. After reading the first few pages I thought OK, just right for a fast read, an easy flick-through... a piece of fluff. But, with just one chapter under my belt I knew I’d been on the wrong track; this old codger was sold, lapping the juicy, totally gripping storyline like a cat with a dish of double cream.

Action packed, vibrant and life affirming, Dragon Marked is a totally compelling read. A wild adventure ride packed with unique characters. The leads: Jessa, the wolf-shifter and her ‘pack’, Braxton the dragon-shifter, Jacob the fey, Tyson the wizard and Maximus the vampire, live in Stratford, Connecticut, one of the supernatural communities magically shielded from Earth’s human populace. Stanford adjoins Vanguard, one of the fortresses that imprison supernatural criminals of the highest order, to keep both ‘supes’ and human’s safe.

When Braxton and Jessa are locked up in Vanguard by a power grabbing, corrupt official, they discover long-hidden secrets. Not only does Jessa find the ability to unleash an unexpected new form and ability, but she and Braxton learn of a cataclysmic secret that threatens not only the supernaturals but the whole world – the Dragon King will rise again.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Adventure, whizz-bang action and Marvel-type heroes.

Avoid if you don’t like: Adventure, whizz-bang action and Marvel-type heroes.

Ideal accompaniments: Cola drinks and a family pack of toffee popcorn.

Genre: YA 17+

Available from Amazon

Friday, 22 May 2015

The Midwife's Revolt by Jodi Daynard

Reviewer: Liza Perrat, author of Spirit of Lost Angels and Wolfsangel

What we thought: The Midwife’s Revolt, set in Braintree, Massachusetts, throws the reader into the turbulent years of the American Revolutionary War, with great insight into the personal lives of the women left at home.

Elizabeth "Lizzie" Bolyston, a midwife and a widow of the Revolution is struggling with the pain and grief of her husband's death, and her battle to be accepted into her small community. But she’s determined, and rides a horse like a man and disguises herself in men’s clothes to work undercover for the patriots. Yet she’s also kind and gentle, caring for the sick and birthing women around her, such as her orphaned apprentice, Martha and her cast-out sister-in-law, Eliza. And when Lizzie finally begins to have feelings for a man, but suspects he might be a spy for the Tories, the story takes on a dangerous turn as she tries to discover the truth.

As well as giving an accurate account of the Revolutionary War itself, the author vividly depicts how it affected the daily lives of those left at home, fighting behind the scenes. The historical events ring true and authentic and at times I kept asking myself who and what was fictional.

I would recommend The Midwife’s Revolt for readers who enjoy stories about the American Revolution and the parts played by women in this struggle.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Stories based on historical fact with strong female protagonists.

Avoid if you don’t like: Stories largely featuring female friendships.

Ideal accompaniments: Flagon of good strong ale.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Available from Amazon

The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones, by Susie Day

Reviewer: JW Hicks author of Rats

What we thought: Book of the month? No. Book of the year, more like.

This wonderful book should be read by parents and children alike. It offers a true to life description of teen angst that stirs memories for older readers, and gives younger readers comfort in knowing others feel as they do.

The characterisations are pitch-perfect: the magnificent Bluebell, a convincing teenager; Tiger her lesbian sister portrayed deftly and sympathetically, and the open minded parents who are so accepting of the vagaries of life and love.

This book relates Blue’s joyous discovery of who she is and what is really important to her. As well as the joy, you will experiences an undertow of sadness, and a hello-what’s-coming feeling that keeps your eyes glued to the page. I must say I beamed when Blue admits, ‘I don’t want to be anyone else. I’m ready to be me.’

On Bluebell Jones’ thirteenth birthday she wishes she was a real teenager, to be as grown up and confident as older sister,Tiger. The answer to this heartfelt wish? The appearance of her doppelganger, Red: a dyed-hair, cool-dressing vision of her fourteen year old self, come to help her achieve her wish. A vision no one but Bluebell can see.

With Red as a guide and predictor of false steps, Bluebell is able to make friends with Fifties-obsessed Fozzie, Dan the Donut, and the mysterious, top-hat wearing, Merlin. She even finds the confidence to rename herself Blue, ride the Red Dragon roller coaster... and fall in love.

But when Red refuses to reveal the name of Blue’s expected sibling, Blue suspects her of holding back other future events.

She’s right, Red is hiding something – something major.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Brian Keaney’s YA novels. The Bones by Michael Prince.

Avoid if you don’t like: Teen angst and pitch-perfect parenting.

Ideal accompaniments: A garden lounger under a shady tree, a plate of buttered, fresh baked scones and a big box of tissues.

Genre: YA

Available from Amazon

Read all you need to know about Susie Day at

Offshore by Ann Cleeves

Reviewer: Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter, Closure, Complicit & Crimson Shore (

What we thought: I like to think I have a lot in common with crime writer, Ann Cleeves. Not only are we both crime writers, we both base our novels in rugged, remote wild coastlines. Ann preferring remote Scottish Isles or the North Sea coast, whilst I choose the beauty of North Wales and the island of Anglesey.

So when I heard Ann Cleeves had produced a short story collection titled ‘Offshore’ where every story was based on an island around the UK – obviously I had to have it!

I’m a huge fan of Ann’s writing and I’m addicted the television series of ‘Vera’ so I couldn’t wait to read her collection of shorts. Short story writing is an art all of its own, and there are some wonderful stories in this collection that show just how deep the author’s talents run.

In 'Stranded', set on Hilbre near Liverpool, a young man's first love vanishes. In 'Hector's Other Woman', on Holy Island, we meet a young Vera before she becomes DI Vera Stanhope, and discover how she decides to enter the police force. One of the stories, 'Postcard from Skokholm', is written by Lynne Chitty, winner of Pan Macmillan's Bello imprint's short story competition, who introduces Ann Cleeves' beloved characters George and Molly Palmer-Jones to new readers.

In every story, the author adeptly captures the sense of the location and brings it to life as part of an exciting crime story. I loved every single story and as it’s on promotion on Amazon for little more that a quid, it’s most definitely a quid well spent!

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Peter May.

Avoid if you don’t like: Remote islands and dark secrets.

Ideal accompaniments: Cheeseboard, fruit, and strong black coffee.

Genre: Crime Fiction.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Cold Pressed by JJ Marsh

Reviewer: Anne Stormont
This review was Highly Commended by the Scottish Association of Writers in its 2015 Book Review Competition.

What We Thought: This is the fourth book in a series based on the personal and working life of Scotland Yard officer, Detective Inspector Beatrice Stubbs. However, it's not necessary to have read the others in order to be able to follow this one. Like its predecessors it can stand alone.

I have read and enjoyed the other three and so my expectations were high, but I was also apprehensive in case this latest one didn't live up to the high standards of the earlier books. I needn't have worried. It was the best yet. Author JJ Marsh has produced another excellent piece of crime fiction.
Beatrice Stubbs is a wonderful creation. She's complex, flawed and utterly believable.
She's not only a clever, successful and gutsy police officer, but she also has mental-health issues and faces some difficulties in her relationship with her long-term partner, Matthew.
Her occasional malapropisms only add to her endearing qualities. For example she mentions 'not upsetting the apple tart', and needing 'forty wings' when sleepy.

Beatrice's job often takes her abroad and involves her working jointly with foreign police forces. In Cold Pressed, when a British woman, a passenger aboard a cruise ship sailing around the Greek islands, dies after being thrown from a cliff whilst ashore, Beatrice is sent to investigate alongside Inspector Stephanakis of the Greek police. The setting, of course, lends itself to beautiful visual descriptions, and Marsh certainly brings Santorini, the Cyclades and the Dodecanese to life. The reader can see the bluest of seas, feel the hottest sunshine, taste the delicious food.
But there's menace too and there are serious crimes to be solved, and what Beatrice had hoped would be a straightforward and brisk investigation, becomes a more prolonged and difficult case when two more of the ship's passengers are discovered to have been murdered. Beatrice and Inspector Stephanakis must stay with the ship and get to know the captain, crew and guests. Before both police officers find their own lives in danger when they discover a dark secret and a murder suspect out for revenge.

But Cold Pressed is much more than a simple police-procedural tale. Marsh is an excellent story-weaver. The plot twists and turns, the suspense is compelling. The intertwining of the details of the case and Beatrice's personal demons is clever and credible and gives the plot a multi-layered feel. All the characters, major and minor, are well drawn and believable. As a reader, you're drawn in and made to care about them as you feel the terror and panic that sweeps the ship.
Marsh's economical, highly visual prose make this book a deceptively easy read, but at the same time a most satisfying one.

You'll enjoy this is you like: Alexander McCall Smith, Agatha Christie and characters you wish were real

Avoid if you dislike: Greece, cruise ships, and an absence of graphic violence

Ideal accompaniments: a meze platter, a glass of ouzo with water and a sunlounger

Genre: Crime

Available from Amazon

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

Reviewer: JW Hicks author of Rats

What We Thought: Famed for his adult Epic Fantasy, Brandon delivers on all counts in this YA novel.

The Rithmatist is an inventive and detailed story which focuses on two outsiders studying at Armedius Academy: Joel the chalk-makers son, with an instinctive, internalised grasp of mathematics who is not, though he longs to be, a Rithmatist, and Melody Mims, a failing Rithmatist student who prefers to sketch unicorns rather than improve the accuracy of her geometric diagrams.

At first they don’t get on, Melody has a scratchy personality and a massive chip on her shoulder, but the twosome find common ground in attempting to work out why Rithmatist students are disappearing, kidnapped from their rooms at night... leaving trails of blood.

Rithmatists from the islands of the New World use their magical powers as a defence against the inimical Chalklings who inhabit the Tower of Nebrask – the only freestanding structure of apparent human design to be found when the Islands were first discovered.

Students who complete their training at the Armedius Accademy, are sent to Nebrask to help keep the Chalklings penned in the Tower, and thus keep the American Isles safe from their depredations. It turns out that the kidnapped students are top-quality Rithmatists expected to be powerful fighters in the Tower war. Their loss is catastrophic.

Joel is assigned to Professor Fitch as an aide in Fitch’s investigation into the kidnappings. Inquisitive Melody tags along. In the course of their investigation, Joel discovers vital information in his dead father’s workshop. Then after a confrontation with a magical opponent he and Melody realise that there’s a whole lot more going on at Nebrask than people are aware of.

What they discover is something that will change Rithmatics, and their world, forever.

This fabulous book meant for young adult readers is more readable than a lot of lit-fic novels written for the older reader. The excitingly-tense story is told with flowing ease and is a definite page turner. I look forward to reading the planned sequel, The Aztlantian.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: A taste of Rowling mixed with a scoop of Plowman, melded with an added soupçon of Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching stories.

Avoid if you don’t like: Scary tales of teens battling man-eating Chalklings.

Ideal accompaniments: A box or two of Thorntons Irresistible Irish Cream Truffles.

Genre: YA Fantasy

Available from Amazon

The Ghostly Father by Sue Barnard

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett, author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Land Beyond Goodbye and Don’t Look Down (

What We Thought: I won this book in a competition and it has been lurking on my Kindle for a while. Because of this I had no preconceived ideas about it before I read it. Very soon, however, it became apparent that this was going to be an alternative version of Romeo and Juliet – the story behind the story, if you like.

Juliet Roberts is translating an old Italian manuscript as a present for her grandfather’s 100th birthday and is astonished to discover that it appears to be written by Friar Lawrence – the priest who married Romeo and Juliet. As told by Friar Lawrence (now in the guise of Fra Lorenzo) the truth behind the tale of the starcrossed lovers is slowly revealed.

Also revealed are Lorenzo’s own secrets – the loves and losses of his youth, his relationship with his father, his acceptance of monastic life. Fra Lorenzo is a herbalist, a healer. He is a modest and kindly man, always willing to help others, who is beloved of his peers and superiors alike. Little do they know that passion once burned within the heart of this gentle man.

This is as much Lorenzo’s story as it is that of Romeo and Juliet, and I could not help hoping that the outcome would be beneficial for him and that somehow he would regain his lost love.

I found this to be a delightful novel – well-written, well described, well brought to life. The workings out of the story are cleverly done, the research is lightly worn and the novel rounded off perfectly. I found myself smiling at some of the neat plotting and tying up of ends. And a knowledge of the play by that fellow Shakespeare is really not necessary for full enjoyment of this book.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Love stories with a bit more to them.

Avoid if you dislike: Rewritings of established texts.

Ideal accompaniments: Herbal tinctures – but take note of what’s in them!

Genre: Literary/Historical Fiction

Available from Amazon

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Introducing The Bookmuse Recommended Read Award!

Bookmuse recommends great books to discerning readers.

We read and assess submissions, handpick the ones we love and send out a weekly newsletter to our subscribers. We only feature books we can honestly recommend.

Bookmuse reviews follow this format:
What we thought
You’ll enjoy this if you liked
Avoid if you dislike
Ideal accompaniments

· We read books from trade, small and independent or self publishers
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