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“I’ve Loved These Days” Bethany Turner

Though some human experiences are undoubtedly stark or sensational, sad or joyous on any scale, it has always been true that any given set of circumstances may be handled by different people in different ways; and that therefore at that level, any person’s ‘reality’ is largely a figment of her or his own imagination. It is also true that the vast majority of ‘ordinary’ people envy the ‘glitterati’ – the rich, talented and famous who seem to “have it all.” In ‘I have Loved These Days’ Bethany Turner has taken this ‘wannabe’ strain in the human psyche and combined it...

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“Jazz Baby” by Beem Weeks

One reviewer wrote: “Jazz Baby is intense, raw, erotic, violent, and often uncomfortably sensuous, which makes it so different from To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye. But like those classics, the protagonist is fresh and compelling, her story brilliantly conveyed. One of the most accomplished self-published works I've read.” I totally agree. “It’s nineteen twenty-five, and things are different now,” Emily Ann Teegarten proclaims near the beginning.  Not nearly different enough as it turns out. “You have a way with song,” a piece of gangster’s muscle declares near the end. “Shame nobody cares.”  She was born ‘Mississippi...

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“Chained by Fear” (Book 2 of The Death Wizard Chronicles) Jim Melvin

The first chapter is extraordinarily powerful: a chilling creation of the terrible “Sun God” Invictus in his youth, in love with his much younger sister Laylah, who is energised by the reflective moon. The magic is elemental, off the normal scale, and terrifying in both its invincibility and its cruelty; and the scale of the story is huge: a vast landscape of mountains, forests, streams and valleys, fortresses, towns and villages peopled by peasants, pirates, Mogols, giants, dwarves, dragons, dracools and innumerable other fantastical creatures, with demons and death knowers as the incredibly powerful protagonists, all linked to a time...

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“Idyll” James Derry

James Derry is a superb writer. I gave “Line of Descent” five stars, and “Idyll” is another classic from him. This is one for particularly resilient fans of well-written dystopian novels: because for 74% of the book, horror is piled on “horror in a series of relentlessly awful days”. The protagonists are on a planet 13 light years from Earth, where the intrepid human settlers face insuperable obstacles in a heartaching struggle for survival. The detail is exquisite, the descriptions evocative and the characterisation complex. While reading it I kept hearing the final bars of Gustav Holst’s “Mars, the Bringer...

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“The 11.05 Murders” Brian O’Hare

Brian O’Hare is an intelligent and compassionate storyteller who takes his chosen genre a decent literary distance beyond your average ‘Whodunnit’. Murder investigations must be like this in real life: the discovery of layers of complications and interwoven situations which tell the reader things worth knowing about the human condition, regardless of the mysteries being unravelled. On the one hand there are events which appear isolated and yet have some connection to the case. On the other, there is the overlapping of ‘cases’: characters who may or may not be centrally involved with the murders under investigation but who certainly...

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“Evidence of Insanity” Carol Piner

Heartbreaking, heartwarming, heart-searching, this is a tale of survival through a dysfunctional childhood and an almost inevitably fraught adulthood strewn with relationships that sometimes worked and often didn’t. There is “evidence of insanity” but also of sanity in the face of odds that could easily have crushed anyone less indomitable. Callie derives her strength and values from her mother: using humour and anger to deal with often terrible circumstances, and freely admitting that such childhood experiences can turn you into an adrenalin junkie: getting high on fear, risk and potential/actual violent confrontation; but she is also acutely responsive to beauty...

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“Milele Safari” Jan Hawke

The book’s foreword and acknowledgements are particularly intelligent and comprehensive, raising hopes and expectations that are exceeded by the book itself. “Milele Safari” is inspiring, harrowing, brave, compassionate, and impressively well-informed. It is one of those rare books that while informing and entertaining (in the best sense) its readers, helps them get their own lives in perspective: reminding them when all is said and done what it is they have to be thankful for. “Genocide. The pain goes on and on. T.I.A.” [This is Africa] “In real life there are rarely happy endings and good intentions seem not so much...

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“Planet Purgatory” Benedict J Martin

I recently read and very much enjoyed Ben Martin’s first book ‘Charlie Robot’ so I had high hopes for his second book, and it lived up to my expectations. It’s a very different tale, though still told in the first person - this time by David –in a curiously unadorned and compelling way. David is on a ‘planet’ inhabited by flawed people – including both his parents - and ‘monsters’ he has every reason to fear. He doesn’t know how they all got there or why things happen in the ‘spaced-out’ way they do, but successive dilemmas regularly push him...

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“Finding Katie” Harmony Kent

I found this a fascinating, revealing and affirming read. I normally avoid books written in the continuous present, but there are occasions when that ‘oral’ way of telling a story is absolutely appropriate; and this is one of them. Kate’s history of eating disorder, self-loathing and self-harm clearly indicates how deeply damaged she is. She suffered systematic abuse throughout her childhood and early adolescence. She had an obsessive-compulsive, violent, cruel mother and a sexually abusive father, and it was drummed into her that everything bad that ever happened to her at home happened because she was a disobedient, selfish, wicked,...

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“Haunting Megan” Rebecca Reilly

This is a story that twists and turns but never fails to pluck at the heart strings. Its refrains are involving – haunting and chilling – but what gives it its power is how securely it is rooted in reality. It is heart-stopping at times because you know the author is right: the world isn’t fair, mistakes are made, and the innocent are routinely crucified. But Rebecca Reilly IS scrupulously fair: it is such a relief that the psychos aren’t all men and the victims all women. I know from personal experience, as does she, that damage does not discriminate...

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