Recent Reads

The Crossing Places

From the Blurb:

“Dr Ruth Galloway is called in when a child’s bones are discovered near the site of a prehistoric henge on the north Norfolk salt marshes. Are they the remains of a local girl who disappeared ten years earlier – or are the bones much older?

DCI Harry Nelson refuses to give up the hunt for the missing girl. Since she vanished, someone has been sending him bizarre anonymous notes about ritual sacrifice, quoting Shakespeare and the Bible. He knows that Ruth’s expertise and experience could help him finally to put this case to rest. But when a second child goes missing, Ruth finds herself in danger from a killer who knows she’s getting ever closer to the truth…”

My Review:

The Crossing Places (Dr Ruth Galloway Mysteries, #1) by UK author Elly Griffiths is a crime thriller with a considerable difference. The protagonist is slightly awkward, overweight, nearing middle-aged female forensic archaeologist, Dr Ruth Galloway who’s primary role is teaching and researching in Archaeology in the new university of North Norfolk, United Kingdom. The discovery of a body ritually displayed on the remote salt marshes near where Ruth lives soon brings local police detective Harry Nelson into Ruth’s sphere of work and life and his desperate search for the body of a child missing ten years, the case he cannot forget nor forgive himself for not solving.

The following events involve a series of archaeological investigations into the ritualised burial and likely sacrifice of the young girl whose remains Ruth discovers are not recent but from an Iron Age civilisation that built hedge sites and other ritual structures in the North Norfolk area during the Iron Age. For detective Harry Nelson, Ruth’s academic excitement in the Iron Age burial only saddens and frustrates him in the callousness of human nature, that centuries before, young girls were being ritually killed on the salt marshes. It seems Ruth and Harry have little in common except an interest to discover the fate of the respective young girls, one more recent, another from the Iron Age. But events quickly escalate with the new discovery of the Iron Age burial linking to a series of antagonistic letters detective Nelson has received over the ten years from the suspected killer, which now begin again in earnest along with another child abduction. When another child burial is found, Harry Nelson recruits Ruth to excavate and to provide her expertise on ritual sacrifices and Iron Age culture near the salt marshes. It is the beginning of a partnership and a case that focuses on the importance of the ‘crossing places’ to Iron Age belief systems, the role of landscapes which are neither shore nor sea, sky nor land.

Final Thoughts:

The Crossing Places was an enjoyable crime mystery, the combination of unlikely but personable characters, the depth of research into archaeological techniques and academic institutions gave the plot a sense of reality. The detailed research into Iron Age belief systems of ‘crossing places’, the importance of these liminal landscapes within our natural landscapes of land and sea contributed to a fascinating read.

My Conclusion?

A highly-recommended read for anyone who enjoys ancient history, crime or mystery, quirky and complex characters and archaeology.

Recent Reads

Ivory’s Story

From the Blurb:

“Long ago, a good man transgressed and was brutally punished, his physical form killed and his soul split asunder. Now, one half of his ancient soul seeks to reunite with its lost twin, a search that leaves murder in its wake…
In the streets of modern day Sydney a killer stalks the night, slaughtering innocents, leaving bodies mutilated. The victims seem unconnected, yet Investigating Officer Ivory Tembo is convinced the killings are anything but random. The case soon leads Ivory into places she never imagined. In order to stop the killings and save the life of the man she loves, she must reach deep into her past, uncover secrets of her heritage, break a demon’s curse, and somehow unify two worlds.”

My Review:

I recently read Ivory’s Story by African-Australian author Eugen Bacon after readings several reviews and the description roused my interest in this unique speculative fiction novella set in Australia.

The protagonist of Ivory’s Story is female detective Ivory Tembo who has the unhappy task leading the failing investigation into a series of grisly murders of high-profile men in sexually explicit ways in Sydney, Australia. Raised as an orphan and without knolwedge of her family, Ivory has only the unusual opal amulet from her mother to link her to true heritage. Determined to solve the killings and discover her identity, Ivory is directed to a seer at Orange Crater in the northern-central Australia.

The long travel to Orange Crater, Ivory finds her mother also visited but finds no trace of any other family ties only a strong affiliation with a cranky medicine woman. Under the guidance of this medicine woman, Ivory learns how to defeat and stop the murders and the reasons behind the gruesome killings. The medicine woman explains a past tragedy involved an exiled son of a medicine man. This son harboured a rare gift of twin-souls but when accused of stealing a Chieftain’s daughter, his execution does not kill him but does separate his souls, causing one to remain forever within his body, the other to always seek to return. For Ivory, she must re-unite the twin souls after centuries and dimensional planes apart if she is to save the man she loves and stop the killings.

Final Thoughts:

A combination of beautifully written prose and vivid descriptions of the Australian and inter-dimensional landscapes, Ivory’s Story also features a cast of well-defined characters and refreshingly strong female characters. Although, there are sections of the novella that seem to drift from the central focus of the story and can detract from its purpose, leaving me wanting more about Ivory’s detective work and development as a seer, the strong weird fiction themes do not make this feel like a true flaw, more like a necessary element of the weird fiction style.

My Conclusion?

Ivory’s Story is recommended for its beautiful prose and strong female characters. Readers will be certain to enjoy a cultural odyssey for those familiar and new to both the weird and speculative fiction genres.

events, Writing

Greed Anthology Release


I’m excited to announce the release on December 27th, 2020 of Greed (Seven Deadly Sins, #5) published by Black Hare Press featuring my story “A Handful of Dead Leaves.”

This dark speculative fiction anthology on the theme of greed, a desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual. Featuring my short story “A Handful of Dead Leaves”, the darker truth of leprechaun lore and dealings with the Fae. You can also learn about my research into leprechaun folklore here.


Keen to purchase an ebook or paperback copy of Greed (Seven Deadly Sins, #5)? More details here

Recent Reads

Time of Contempt

From the Blurb:

To protect his ward, Ciri, Geralt of Rivia sends her away from the home of the Witchers to train with the sorceress Yennefer. But all is not well within the Wizard’s Guild.

Geralt is a Witcher: guardian of the innocent; protector of those in need; a defender, in dark times, against some of the most frightening creatures of myth and legend. His task, now, is to protect Ciri. A child of prophecy, she will have the power to change the world for good or for ill — but only if she lives to use it.”

Review:

The Time of Contempt is the second novel in the epic fantasy series The Witcher by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski following from The Blood of Elves. Continuing from the dramatic events of Blood of Elves, Ciri is apprenticed to Lady Yennefer as the sorceress attempts to determine the extent of Ciri’s magical talent and what underlying dark forces seem latent within her giving her the ability as a seer. Determined to see to Ciri’s education, Yennefer arranges for Ciri to attend training at an island tower where sorceresses like Yennefer continue to be trained. But the eve of their arrival, The Wizard’s Guild are meeting and the enclave of sorcerers and sorceresses should determine the fate and solutions for the rising chaos between the races and the coming threat of war from Nilfgaard. While Ciri is supposed to be within her tower rooms, she escapes the prison-like confines of the island and rides to where she expects to find Geralt. There among the wild lands of the coastline, the tower continues to darken her thoughts and the Wild Hunt, the harbingers of chaos and destruction join her ride. Although Ciri finds Geralt, he seems distracted and the arrival of Yennefer to return Ciri to the island does little to abate her concerns.

Yet Geralt is easily convinced by Yennefer to join her as his guest to the enclave and the meeting between the sorcerers. Despite the reunion between the two former lovers, Ciri is increasingly agitated and soon unsettling events at the tower island begin to reflect her mood. The pact and meetings between envoys for the kingdoms and their representatives of the Wizard’s Guild never eventuate with factions within the Guild tearing apart the meeting. Caught between the fighting and without a chance to flee the island, Ciri escapes up the tower to the broken portal above. The attacking faction within the sorcerers meeting also open the way for invading rebel elves and the Nilfgaardian forces to enter the island. Desperate to reach Ciri, Geralt fights his way to the tower portal where Yennefer and Ciri have reportedly fled. Mortally injured and unable to reach Ciri, it is up to her alone to arrange her own escape. As the island implodes with the magical forces and Geralt lies bleeding on the steps beyond, Ciri escapes the elven sorcerer indebted to Nifgaard by using the portal despite its instability and unlikely success.

It is into this dark new age that Ciri emerges changed. Her talents as a sorcerer now seem strangely absent after a sojourn in the wilderness where she succumbed to the temptation of the fire magic Yennefer had always forbidden her. Geralt is far from Ciri, forced to recover from his near-fatal injuries in the dryad ruled forest of Brokilon and Ciri’s true whereabouts remain unknown despite rumours that the Nilfgaard king has presented the princess of Cintra as his bride-to-be at his court. These seem but false rumours with the true Ciri having joined a rebel group of outlaws, adolescent outlaws hardened by the war and rising chaos in the world around them. To Ciri, her sense of abandonment by Geralt and Yennefer has reached a peak and this new band of friends and killers is where she feels she belongs.

Final Thoughts:

A Time of Contempt was a wonderful combination of political intrigue and social history with the masterful world-building I have come to expect from Sapkowski. The detailed history of events and cultures blends seamlessly with the magical forces and structures of this fantastic world.

My Conclusion?

Another masterpiece from Andrzej Sapkowski. Highly recommended for fans of Slavic folklore, epic fantasy, Netflix The Witcher TV series and especially fans of Sapkowski’s The Witcher books. A must-read.

Recent Reads

Blood of Elves

From the Blurb:

“For over a century, humans, dwarves, gnomes, and elves have lived together in relative peace. But times have changed, the uneasy peace is over, and now the races are fighting once again. The only good elf, it seems, is a dead elf.

Geralt of Rivia, the cunning assassin known as the Witcher, has been waiting for the birth of a prophesied child. This child has the power to change the world — for good, or for evil.

As the threat of war hangs over the land and the child is hunted for her extraordinary powers, it will become Geralt’s responsibility to protect them all. And the Witcher never accepts defeat.”

Review:

Blood of Elves is the first novel in The Witcher series, an epic fantasy by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. Despite there being two volumes previous to Blood of Elves, these are short story collections but they do provide significant character and world-building details. It is not necessary to read these short story collections beforehand as the amazing world-building and storytelling by Sapkowski more than sets the scene.

The protagonist in the Blood of Elves is young Ciri, an orphaned heiress to the conquered kingdom of Cintra and consequently prophecy links her fate to the mutant assassin and mercenary, Geralt of Rivia. Despite his monstrous career and profession, Geralt is incredibly protective and kind to Ciri, attempting to raise her in the way he sees best. While the forces of Nilfgaard continue to hunt for her and the looming darkness that threatens to bring chaos to the world edges closer, Ciri grows into early adolescence in relative peace. But she cannot remain as a Witcher child, not initiated into the poisons that have robbed Geralt since childhood of his mortality and humanity nor stay hidden from the world forever. Reluctantly, Geralt gives Ciri into the care of the sorceress he trusts and fears the most, his former lover the Lady Yennefer. Forbidding and beautiful, Yennefer will see to Ciri’s education as a young noblewoman and begins to notice a magical talent lying dormant within the child. For Geralt the task falls to make enquiries into growing unrest between the races, where humans, elves and dwarves have begun to break the centuries old truce which threatens to spill into outright war just as the advancing armies of Niflgaard pressure the border kingdoms.

Final Thoughts:

Blood of Elves was a wonderful beginning to a serious epic fantasy. The scope of the detail and the world-building in this single volume alone was impressive. The rich folklore inspired from Sapkowski’s Slavic heritage lends true weight to the world-building and the detail throughout is exquisite. The political and social intrigues highlighted in the novel are at times amusing and others, dark with the history of Eastern Europe.

My Conclusion?

An absolute gem of a book. Epic fantasy at its best. Highly recommended!

Recent Reads

Mexican Gothic

From the Blurb:

“After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.”

Review:

One of my Halloween reads for 2020 was the highly acclaimed horror noir novel Mexican Gothic by Mexican-born Canadian author Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

Mexican Gothic is set in 1950s Mexico and follows female protagonist, a wealthy young socialite Noemi Taboada. After a mysterious letter arrives from her cousin, Catalina, newly married a year but moved to her husband’s estate in a remote village in rural Mexico, Noemi goes to check on Catalina as her father’s envoy and hopefully procure permission of Catalina’s husband, Virgil Doyle, to take Catalina back to Mexico City for psychiatric care. But within moments of arriving at High Place, Noemi is uneasy within the old house and near-abandoned village below serves as a brutal reminder of the once flourishing community, now gone. Despite Noemi finding that Catalina seems much improved, now claiming a case of tuberculosis and suffering an odd listlessness and occasional lapses of paranoia. Unsatisfied with this uncharacteristic behaviour of her cousin, Noemi starts visiting the traditional healer once-frequented by Catalina. There she learns the dark and tragic history of murders, epidemics and murder-suicides that have dominated High Place since Virgil’s grandfather first arrived from England. Now aged and dying, Harold Doyle is still the master of High Place, and is a cold, repellent man Noemi cannot abide and also fears.

Certain the aggressive and ever-present house staff are keeping Catalina in a constant drug-induced sleep, Noemi finds Catalina’s husband to be as cold and unpleasant as his grandfather. Virgil’s true character is revealed in his increasingly threatening and lecherous behaviour toward Noemi. Out of options to save her cousin but unwilling to leave Catalina behind at High Place and to the mercy of Virgil, Noemi finds an unlikely ally in Virgil’s younger brother, Francis, a kind, awkwardly shy man who is everything Virgil is not.

Slowly, Noemi’s grasp on reality starts to fade and the haunting atmosphere of High Place begins to affect her just as it did Catalina, dominating her waking fears and nightmares. Noemi becomes sure of a malevolent presence within the house itself and starts seeing apparitions, hearing the voice of the now-dead daughter of Harold Doyle, who committed a murder-suicide, killing her family except for Virgil, Francis and Harold Doyle. In the quickly escalating events, Noemi discovers how Harold Doyle bears the responsibility for cursing his lineage and how his cruel and vile actions gave life to a malevolence within the very fabric of High Place.

My Thoughts:

Mexican Gothic was a dark twist on the disturbing greed of colonial dominated Mexico and the ideals that allowed racism and classism to flourish. The interesting history of anthropological sciences, the history of eugenics provide the foundations for an unusual re-imagining of a haunting, making Mexican Gothic a ghost story in the Lovecraftian fashion of weird fiction.

My Conclusion?

Recommended for anyone who appreciates historical noir fiction, the gothic noir of The Crow Garden and classics like Frankenstein and A Turn of the Screw.

Recent Reads

Storm of Locusts

From the Blurb:

“It’s been four weeks since the bloody showdown at Black Mesa, and Maggie Hoskie, Diné monster hunter, is trying to make the best of things. Only her latest bounty hunt has gone sideways, she’s lost her only friend, Kai Arviso, and she’s somehow found herself responsible for a girl with a strange clan power.

Then the Goodacre twins show up at Maggie’s door with the news that Kai and the youngest Goodacre, Caleb, have fallen in with a mysterious cult, led by a figure out of Navajo legend called the White Locust. The Goodacres are convinced that Kai’s a true believer, but Maggie suspects there’s more to Kai’s new faith than meets the eye. She vows to track down the White Locust, then rescue Kai and make things right between them.

Her search leads her beyond the Walls of Dinétah and straight into the horrors of the Big Water world outside. With the aid of a motley collection of allies, Maggie must battle body harvesters, newborn casino gods and, ultimately, the White Locust himself. But the cult leader is nothing like she suspected, and Kai might not need rescuing after all. When the full scope of the White Locust’s plans are revealed, Maggie’s burgeoning trust in her friends, and herself, will be pushed to the breaking point, and not everyone will survive.”

Review:

Storm of Locusts by US author Rebecca Roanhorse is the second volume in the dystopian fantasy series The Sixth World inspired by Navajo legend and mythology.

Storm of Locusts follows from the dramatic ending of Trail of Lightning with a six month hiatus between the revelations shared by Maggie and Kai. Since then, Kai has not contacted Maggie and she has become the unlikely guardian for a young girl, recently orphaned but long-since in possession of her clan powers and the dark, violent history that often entails.

Maggie and her charge are enlisted to search for the missing youngest son of Maggie’s neighbours, the Goodacres. But Caleb Goodacre is feared abducted as part of a charismatic and dangerous doomsday cult, its leader proclaiming kinship with an ancient Navajo legend, the White Locust. Maggie quickly discovers that Caleb left willingly with Kai and she must trust her instinct that Kai is no monster. With the aid of her charge and the unusual clan powers for tracking, Maggie follows Kai and the White Locust beyond the safety of the Walls of Dinétah where the post-apocalyptic world of body harvesting challenge the horror Maggie has witnessed hunting Navajo monsters in Dinétah. But evidence continues to mount that Kai has willingly been helping the White Locust using his own clan powers of persuasion to grow the following and enable the White Locust in destroy the Sixth World. Maggie has only the untruthworhty advice of Mican to aid her and she must decide whether Kai is good or whether his clan powers have deceived her who is a friend or a monster.

Final Thoughts:

Storm of Locusts proved to be the sequel to Trail of Lightning that took the brutal Sixth World that Rebecca Roanhorse had masterfully created into another level. I found the story compelling in its honesty and the gritty sense of realism was refreshing for dystopian fantasy which often feels unauthentic in its envisioned future. Storm of Locusts perfectly captures a world of dwindling hope, selfishness and greed prevail as human society struggles to survive. It is a fertile place, where a cult promising new order and inclusion, could flourish.

My Conclusion:

A must-read if you enjoyed Trail of Lightning, fans of dystopian fantasy or those craving an original fantasy inspired by non-Celtic folklore. Highly recommended!

Recent Reads

Flyaway

From the Blurb:

“Strange what chooses to flourish here. Which plants. Which stories.

Bettina Scott lives a tidy, quiet life in Runagate, tending to her delicate mother and their well-kept garden after her father and brothers disappear – until a note arrives that sends Bettina into the scrublands beyond, searching for answers about what really happened to this town, and to her family.

For this is a land where superstitions hunt and folk tales dream – and power is there for the taking, for those willing to look.

Review:

From my 2020 Halloween reading list, I read the gothic folklore novella Flyaway by Australian author Kathleen Jennings. This was an unexpected gem of a book, evoking the haunting beauty of the Australian landscape.

When first introduced to the protagonist of Flyaway, Bettina Scott seems a sheltered young woman caring for her frail mother. But there’s a darkness lurking beneath the surface, Bettina’s behaviour and cautious treatment by those living in town hint they fear her mother. Soon a dark mystery begins to unearth itself and things about Bettina, the town of Runagate, the Scott family and events of several decades earlier start to surface.

Bettina clearly has gaps in her own memory and the circumstances to her father’s disappearance and those of her brothers are just the most recent attempts to forget those who have disappeared. But as we are told, disappearances aren’t unusual in Runagate, and all seem fearful of the wilderness beyond the boundaries of the town. A mysterious note lures Bettina back into her past and forces her to uncover the truth about herself, her family, the history of Runagate and the dark reality of what she and others have tried to keep buried beyond the tidy limits of the town.

Final thoughts:

Flyaway combined elements of traditional gothic folklore with the unique Australian landscape that was reminiscent to me of descriptions early explorers provided of the Australian wilderness. The harsh and haunting beauty of the natural world is a constant throughout the story, the characters seem equally caught between the past and the present and like the land around them, are products of the past, the effects still visible like scars.

My Conclusion?

Beautifully written, haunting and magical. A must-read for lovers of gothic folklore or Australian fantasy.

Short Stories

Forthcoming: Horror Anthology

I am pleased to announce my horror story “Them” will feature in Wrath (Seven Deadly Sins, #7) Anthology published by Black Hare Press. As with other stories in this anthology, Wrath is the common theme. My short story “Them” is a psychological horror, inspired by history of criminal theory and demonic possession where aberrant psychology in past eras has been attributed to demons manipulating humans toward violent behaviour. If you want to know more about the inspiration and research behind the story, you can do so here.

Release dates and how to purchase a copy of the Wrath (Seven Deadly Sins, #7) will be updated when available. Keep an eye out for the release of the Greed (Seven Deadly Sins, #5) Anthology featuring my dark fantasy story.

reads, Recent Reads

Corpselight

From the Blurb:

Life in Brisbane is never simple for those who walk between the worlds.

Verity’s all about protecting her city, but right now that’s mostly running surveillance and handling the less exciting cases for the Weyrd Council – after all, it’s hard to chase the bad guys through the streets of Brisbane when you’re really, really pregnant.

An insurance investigation sounds pretty harmless, even if it is for ‘Unusual Happenstance’. That’s not usually a clause Normals use – it covers all-purpose hauntings, angry genii loci, ectoplasmic home invasion, demonic possession, that sort of thing – but Susan Beckett’s claimed three times in three months. Her house keeps getting inundated with mud, but she’s still insisting she doesn’t need or want help . . . until the dry-land drownings begin.

V’s first lead in takes her to Chinatown, where she is confronted by kitsune assassins. But when she suddenly goes into labour, it’s clear the fox spirits are not going to be helpful.

Review:

Corpselight is the second volume in the Verity Fassbinder series by Australian author Angela Slatter. The urban fantasy sequel follows almost directly from the events in Vigil with just over six months seeing protagonist Verity Fassbinder in the later stages of her pregnancy at the beginning of Corpselight.

About to begin maternity leave and already on light duties, Verity finds herself on a case in her role as liaison between the Weyrd and Normal communities of Brisneyland (alternate world of Brisbane). A series of inexplicable and frightening dry-land drownings seem to be striking at random, Normal and Weyrd victims alike and somehow a Normal lawyer’s insurance for an ‘Unusual Happenstance’ clause usually only employed by the Weyrd has Verity’s attention. But the lawyer isn’t interested in solving her repeat magical invasions and random deaths from dry-land drownings keep mounting. Amid the turmoil are a trio of deadly fox assassins sent after Verity and the arrival of someone from her past long thought lost to her.

Verity struggles to discover who is employing magic to murder random strangers with a complex drowning spell and why. In a race to save the lives of strangers while protect her new baby daughter, Verity is forced to make greater sacrifices than she thought possible. Revelations about the series of murders drives Verity to face the complex ties between past and present and the lengths she would go to in order to protect those she loves.

Final Thoughts:

I really enjoyed the first instalment in the Verity Fassbinder series, Vigil was unique and offered such a fresh perspective on urban fantasy genre. I was pleasantly surprised to find Corpselight was just as strong. There was more to be discovered about the alternate Weyrd world of Brisneyland and the detailed foundations of folklore and history that the characters, setting and plot were based allowed expansion. Corpselight still offered the uniqueness of Vigil with the feeling I now had the most basic of understandings in how to navigate this new world.

Conclusion?

Corpselight is a must-read urban fantasy, great world-building, dark humour and strong folklore foundations. Highly recommended for fans of urban fantasy!