‘Into The Breach’ by Halo Scot

5/5 stars – A Brutal, visceral Grimdark Horror that will stay with me

I am not a massive Grimdark fan. I have read a few before and most have failed to engage me. Not so Halo Scot’s offering. It grabbed me by my shirt front (okay T-shirt) and did not let go until the last page.

The story is set thousands of years in earth’s future and it is not a happy one. The planet is scorched and has flipped so that Antarctica is the new north and humankind lives there in a desert wasteland. A rift has opened, a gateway to the seven realms, it seems we are not alone and the gods are revealed. Powers are awakened in humans that mirror the four seasons, summer for mages, winter for shields, autumn for shifters and spring for healers.

Into this backdrop come Kyder (our antihero) and Rune (our hero). One born at the height of the summer solstice, the other the winter. The most powerful of their kind they are two sides of the same coin. One broken by birth, the other broken by death. One a psychopath, the other an empath. One born on the fringes of society the other at the heart.

No story is for everyone (I mean some people don’t like Lord of the Rings if you can believe that!) but this story should come with a health warning. I found it as disturbing as I did fascinating and I could not stop reading it.

The story alternates from each protagonists point of view and moves at a great pace from when they are children to young adults. Halo Scot pulls no punches, is brutal to the point I would have turned away if I watched this on a screen, but reading it I had no choice but to read the words, live the emotion, good and bad. It is morally indecent, a lot, which I found more disturbing than the violence. I mean, violence is a known thing, right? We all watch it and read it and see it happening in our world. But what we think, what we know of as right and wrong, those deep, dark questions that hide in the back of our minds are so much scarier when they are on a page (or maybe that is just me).

Into the Breach is much more than all that though. What really carries the story is the conflict of emotion, the war of the soul. It is a story of love rather than hate and of redemption (yes, that old chestnut we all love). I was sucked into Kyder and Rune’s world and bought into their lives in equal measure.

We love Hannibal Lecter for his intelligence and hate him for his cruelty and he scares the s**t out of us, well Kyder is cut of the same cloth. I wouldn’t say he was my guilty pleasure but he was my guilty something.

Anything I didn’t like? Well not really. Maybe a small bugbear, a gripe, that both protagonists break the fourth wall at times and talk directly the reader. Just a thought here or observation there. Well, I didn’t like this. I didn’t notice it in the first half of the book – only the second but that could just have been due to shock! It was a conscious decision by the author, presumably to engage the reader. Make them feel they were part of the story if only a witness to it and I get that some people will love this (I mean, I liked Deadpool’s fourth wall breakage) but for me, it ruined the spell that had been cast, took me out of rather than into the story. Like I say, potatoes, potatos. Thankfully, for me, it was not overused.  

This book will live with me for a long time. It is beautifully written, all the characters feel so alive and uniquely distinctive and oh so very human. I could go on, could probably write an essay on this book but well I won’t, too damn lazy and who would read it!

If you are still intrigued after reading my review then stop procrastinating. Go buy it and read it yourself and go write your own damn review. Halo Scot, I salute you, even though you scare me a little and there is three more books to come. Gulp.

The Lost War: Eidyn Book One by Justin lee Anderson

4/5 stars – A compelling, fun and clever fantasy

I picked this book up before I knew it was the winner of the SPFBO6 and I can see now why it won. It was very well written. The characters all unique, distinctive and the dialogue and interactions between them brilliant. The story was action-packed from the start and it never really let go until the end (kind of).

I do admit to a certain conflict. Whilst I found The Lost War well-plotted and artfully penned, I felt the characters were a little contrived. It was a reverse of convention whereby all the women protagonists were strong, clever and righteous and possessed an abundance of martial prowess whether it was Allandria’s bow or Samily’s warrior or Nirea’s pirate with twin scimitars. Whilst it fell to the men to have all the faults. They were variously flawed and knarled, made dumb choices, drank too much or were overly self-important. Now, having said that it does work. JLA writes it in such a way you can understand why Glorbad drinks so much (hints of PTSD) and why Aranok takes everything on his own shoulders. And, whilst it makes for a very engaging tale because of this, in many ways I found the male protagonists more interesting due to these foibles these bad traits. I guess what I am saying is that I would like to have seen a more flawed female protagonist although I rather suspect I might be seeing one in book two!!  

Overall, it was a great read and rips along, the action fast-paced and brutal with an element of mystery threading through it. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride and especially liked the ending. It was different in many ways and whilst I won’t elaborate or give any spoilers it was an ending I thoroughly enjoyed and sets things up beautifully for book two.  

If you love fantasy stories and don’t mind a bit of graphic violence, swearing or bloodshed then you will not be disappointed with Justin Lee Anderson’s The Lost War: Eidyn.

A Girl Called Ari by P.J. Sky

4 Star Post Apocalyptic Adventure set in Oz

This story was so easy to read and very enjoyable.  It was refreshing that it took place in Australia with the Oz vernacular flavouring the telling, as a kiwi I very much enjoyed this.

The story is told from the perspective of our two main protagonists Starla, a big deal city girl and Ari, a nobody waif trying to grind out a living in the wastelands. When Starla’s world comes crashing down a chance encounter with Ari sets them on a path that will change them both forever.    

The tale is well written and flows so smoothly that the pages just turn themselves. The dialogue is really good and the relationship between Starla and Ari builds throughout from one of suspicion to reluctant trust and then friendship. The story is at times harsh but this growing relationship is heart-warming and carries the story as their adventures twist them this way and that, challenging their understanding of the world.

Refreshingly, this post-apocalyptic adventure has no ravenous zombies. The monsters in this tale are all human, with the odd (mutated?) Dingo thrown in the mix.  I have no hesitation recommending this book to anyone that loves, wasteland/post-apocalyptic books. Book Two ‘Ari Goes To War’ is due out soon I believe.  

‘We Ride The Storm’ by Devin Madson

5 stars Wonderfully evocative, brutally visceral fantasy.

It is not often I pick up a book that so enraptures me it is hard to put it down. Devin Madson, I salute you. What a beautiful written expertly told fantasy. I loved every page and lived every moment. What a ride. Action-packed but so emotionally charged and full of intrigue. Wow.

The story is told through the eyes of three uniquely distinctive characters. You would think I would have a favourite. That I would mourn the passing of one character-driven chapter to pick up the thread of the next but I didn’t. I was so invested in each character that it just flowed. That is a really hard and really impressive ability to maintain throughout an entire book.

I particularly liked the Asian feudal feel to it. It was refreshingly different from the medieval European fantasy that is the standard trope. The nomadic Levanti, horse lords and fearsome warriors were reminiscent of ancient Mongols and the Khans only instead of Steppe ponies they rode towering horses. The Empire of Kisia had hints of ancient China but woven into a unique creed and history.

The story is left on a knife-edge for all three of our protagonists and I can’t complain having been guilty of a few cliffhanger endings myself. It just means I’m going to have to buy the second book….oh wait I already have.

If you love fantasy then I highly recommend this book. ‘Take a look inside’ and if that first chapter doesn’t grab you then maybe you need to take a long hard look at yourself.

The Eros Project by Helen E Slater

3 Stars Scifi/Techno Romance Thriller  

This book was the #indiebookclub read for March. I love Science Fiction and Fantasy and the premise of this book was intriguing enough that I looked forward to it.

Unfortunately, it did not quite match my expectations and the storytelling was not to my taste. I felt the author spent to much time on the mundane, descriptive narrative of everything, from getting up, showering, brushing their teeth, drinking coffee to getting in the car.

The story had promise and at times was a real page-turner, it just was not sustained. I didn’t buy it either. This completely rounded person, the hash the state made of things from the getgo just didn’t add up for me which is a shame because it could have.

The emotion…oh my gosh there was a lot of emotion, from everyone. It was well written but there were angst and tears not just from Rebecca our protagonist but everyone. The guys were all touchy-feely, a lot of impromptu hugging and new-age in touch with themselves that at times just felt two-dimensional. Some readers no doubt will love all this but it wasn’t my cup of tea. To me, this felt like a romance dressed as a techno-thriller.

However, there is no denying that Helen E Slater can write. There were a few typos but nothing to detract too much from the story and the conversations, and narrative were good between the players. So I think some readers will like this story and I suggest taking a ‘Look Inside’ if it appeals.      

TARO: Legendary Boy Hero of Japan by Blue Spruell

4/5 STARS – Folk Tale of Feudal Japan

I bought this on Amazon after taking a ‘look inside’ and was immediately drawn to the story which begins with a seven-year-old Takeda Taro.

I must confess that whilst I have not read many books set in feudal Japan I have an unsated interest in this genre of historical fiction that began when I read Shogun by James Clavell, one of the best books I have ever had the privilege of reading.

This story is the tale of TARO and the author explains before it is started that it is the amalgam of three different folk tales of our eponymous hero.  In simple terms, it is a story of how one young boy grew to unite all of Japan.

I found the book was well written and very engaging to read if not quite what I was expecting (which was entirely my fault since I skimmed the introductory references). It is a folk story and I was so engrossed at the beginning I was not prepared for the magical elements of the story to unfold. It made it more fairy-tale and was not quite what I was looking for in my said desire of reading about Feudal Japan. However, that would be a disservice to the book because the fantastical elements are crucial to the narrative. TARO’s story unfolds in a beautifully concise yet descriptive way that moves at a great pace that kept me engaged.

I would have liked it to have been longer, with more time taken over the adventure to turn into a proper tome but that is not suited to a folk tale I guess.  The fight and battle sequences imparted enough but brusquely, almost like a summarised account which worked, but again I would have preferred more time and detail. I could say the same about the various characters. There are so many interesting and intriguing ones, I just wanted to spend more time with them and see the interactions and relationships build and grow. But again, it is a folk tale told as a story so it is admirable that I should feel so invested in each character after such a short introduction.

Overall, I think this is a great read and I am so pleased I picked it up.   

The Many-Coloured Land by Julian May

5/5 A blended sci-fi fantasy from a master storyteller

I first read the Many-Coloured land when I was eighteen and whilst the detail of it had faded and the language and more technical aspects were heavy going for my young self, the memory of the story remained.

My son gave me a copy for Christmas and so – thirty years later here I am again. I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the re-read. Much more so in fact than I expected. The tale is of Group Green, eight individuals transported on a one-way ticket back in time to Pliocene earth and an unexpected encounter with exotic beings.

The tale is masterfully told in the third person objective style. A style I have not read for a while and I loved it. It did not paint me a tale of feelings and emotions – those were garnered by the character actions and interactions and it is powerful in that way in that it is not intrusive. There is no hero or villain but I cared for them all anyway. I never had the feeling any character was particularly safe, or morally righteous/corrupt, just flawed and very human and each and every one unique. It is almost a cosplay for the cast, each taking the trip through time to live the fantasy they couldn’t in the modern, alien advanced world of the galactic milieu which had flung humanity far and wide in the galaxy.

The book was first published in 1981 and it has that authenticity of authorship. The writing unreserved, smart and expansive. An economy of language that conveyed a fascinating tale with depth and precision but without pages of tedious expansive explanation.  

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will be moving on to the second of the trilogy ‘The Golden Torc’ I think you should all join me.

Escape Reality by Kayla Frost

A Gloriously dark Sci-fi read 5/5

I picked this up on a free/discounted promotion after the ‘Look Inside’ intrigued.

It’s quite a dark sci-fi that set’s it stall out early doors. It is not for the squeamish. It is full throttle, non-stop action. There are no heroes, the characters are flawed and villainous none more so than the main protagonist Edith.

But don’t let that fool you. It is not as simple as that, the story is deeper.  After reading the first few chapters, the author started to flex what seemed a fairly two-dimensional story into a compelling and complex tale and she did it so seamlessly that it sucked me in and that was me hooked.

There are some issues but these pale into the background against the story woven. Mostly a few grammatical errors and a few places where I had to re-read the paragraph to get the meaning and (in my opinion) the narrative could be tightened to redress these few areas but I am nitpicking. The quality of the storytelling is some of the best I have read. The layers to it are so well crafted and revealed so compellingly.

I love science fiction and read a fair bit but it has been a while since I enjoyed a science fiction story as much as this one. I can’t wait for the next and for lovers of dark sci-fi I highly recommend this book.

Secrets My Mothers Kept by Rebecca Tucker

Book club – Book of the Month Selection 5/5

I picked this book up because it was the selected book of the month for a writers/book club I am in. It is not my usual genre by a long shot, which is more fantasy/sci-fi in taste, so I read this with a grumble of foreboding in my gut. We all have our own taste and genre’s we prefer. It was good though to push my reading down a different path for a change and how pleased I was that I did.

I loved it.

Can’t say more than that. Maybe it was because it was not my usual fare but it felt fresh and honest and interesting. I can’t say too much about the story without giving a few spoilers, so I won’t. But I will say it was so easy to read and simply written, yet conveyed complex emotion and feeling without getting too heavy. I learnt about things that I had little experience or knowledge of and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Thank you Book Club. I recommend this book.

Talented Found by PW Browning

YA Fantasy on the high sea 3/5 stars

This was enjoyable and reads like a YA Fantasy from the tone, fast pacing and quick narrative. I would think any young teenager who likes fantasy would engage well with this book. The characters are distinctive and engaging.

That is not to say there are not some issues. It could do with another proofread. There are a few grammatical issues that can detract from the story and for me, there was a lack of depth to the characters due possibly to the fast pacing of the story and style of writing.

I was also not convinced by some of the ‘events’ which seemed illogical and unreasonable or were just a little too contrived. Again this could be put down to the fast story-telling style and some of the more fantastical elements could be put down to that and the YA vibe.

For me, the second half of the book was more compelling and had a suitable ‘to be continued ending’. This is the first book written by PW Browning and the second in the series ‘Talented Taught’ has been released and is now available.

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