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Beelzebelle (Clovenhoof Book 5)
Beelzebelle (Clovenhoof Book 5)
Price: £3.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Satan Adopts A Baby in Birmingham, 1 May 2016
The fifth in the Clovenhoof comic fantasy series returns to its roots.

The action is back in Sutton Coldfield in Birmingham and rejoins the original trio of characters - Clovenhoof, Nerys and Ben - for the first time since the second book.

This latest adventure sees Clovenhoof adopting a baby and learning the ropes of fatherhood. He meets the women of SCUM (Sutton Coldfield Union of Mums), hires a simian au pair called Gorky, and leads a breast-feeding protest against the dogmatic, smartphone-compatible Consecr8 Church.

Meanwhile, Michael is working for the ARC laboratory, owned by the Consecr8 Church, where its zealous benefactor Chip Malarkey has tasked him with obtaining the DNA of every animal on the planet...

Beelzebelle is funny, manic and rude, as you would expect from authors Goody and Grant. It is a joy to return to the original characters, especially Clovenhoof, AKA Satan, who was forced into retirement on Earth in the first novel. The debate about breast-feeding in public is a central theme in the novel, allowing Goody and Grant to try their hand at satire, whilst also coming up with endless comical synonyms for the word 'breast'. Norks?!

The novel also features the best villain in the franchise to date. Chip Malarkey is a self-righteous mogul/preacher with Farrage-style views on breast-feeding and what constitutes indecency. Rather than a God Complex, he has a Noah Complex, which leads to a very exciting finale.

On top of all this excitement, there is also the matter of the Beast of Boldmere, a ferocious monster wreaking havoc across Birmingham, accidentally created in the ARC laboratory from a curious mixture of DNA...

Best of all, there is much fun to be had for Birmingham readers, especially those in the Sutton Coldfield area such as myself, who will enjoy spotting references to local roads, bars and Sutton Park. There is even a map in the front of the book which reveals that Clovenhoof lives around the corner from my house. Yikes.


Up In Smoke
Up In Smoke
by A A Abbott
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like Cigarettes: An Addictive Guilty Pleasure, 2 April 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Up In Smoke (Paperback)
Up In Smoke is the debut novel from thriller author AA Abbott.

Having read her later two novels, After The Interview and The Bride's Trail, I enjoyed returning to her original work to see where it all began. It tells the story of Susan, one of the few good characters, who seeks revenge on a major tobacco company after her husband dies from lung cancer.​

By now, I knew what to expect from Abbott and I was not disappointed. Up In Smoke contains all of her trademark authorial motifs: shady corporate deals, the use of Birmingham and London as backdrops to the action, and a vast international cast with varying moral codes.​​

The characters are always a great reason to pick up an Abbott novel. Most of them are so unsympathetic and unlikeable that they capture your interest, which is why people are so addicted to shows like Game of Thrones and House of Cards. Up In Smoke is like an entire novel of Lannisters and Underwoods!

The ever-present symbol of cigarettes is appropriate because these characters are filthy and rotten, like the cancer-sticks which they aggressively smoke.

Abbott writes from a kaleidoscope of perspectives, quickly switching between chauvinists, adulterers, addicts, smugglers, murderers and corporate spies. This mixture of anti-heroes and outright villains makes for compulsive reading because readers will never be sure who to root for, so you can just sit back and let the corruption unfold.

Abbott is generous with her ideas and does not miss an opportunity for debauchery, whether it be smuggling, seduction, sexual harassment, sabotage, strip clubs, ​vandalism, exploding packages, psychotic ex-wives or just plenty of sex and violence. You will never be bored.

Up In Smoke is like a pack of cigarettes: an addictive guilty pleasure.


The Realt (Tourmaline)
The Realt (Tourmaline)
by James Brogden
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Horror Fantasy Just Got Realt, 30 Mar. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Realt (Tourmaline) (Paperback)
War! What is it good for? A ruddy good Tourmaline sequel apparently!

The Realt is James Brogden's follow-up to his superb urban fantasy novel Tourmaline, which sees war break out across the fantasy world established in his first book. Brogden follows the bulletproof sequel formula: bigger, ballsier and with much higher stakes. In other words: this shizzle just got Realt.

Readers will eagerly return to the twin locations of present day Birmingham in our world (known as the titular Realt) and the surreal but familiar world of the Tourmaline Archipelago. As with the first novel, action flits back and forth between the two, which makes for a fast-paced and varied read.

As you would hope from a sequel, there is more of what we liked the first time round: returning heroes (Runce!) and villains, a dark sense of humour, fantastical and terrifying urban creatures, and lots of Birmingham references.

However, everything is ramped up to eleven. Instead of just one tentacled araka, we are subjected to an entire army of araka-human hybrids. Rather than merely glimpsing the Tourmaline Archipelago, we are shown much larger expanses of Brogden's fantasy world, including the steampunk capital Carden and mental asylum Beldam. The detail of these settings is rich and full of invention.

The mythology is also expanding. We learn more about the history of the two worlds and the sleeping gods, Aions, that reside in the space between. It is these Aions who will take centre stage in the final novel, of which we are given a sneak peak following the epilogue.

There are plenty of highlights in The Realt. Monstrous henchman Lloyd, a mass of tendrils hiding behind a full-faced hoody, is a brilliant addition. Pop culture references abound, including two characters nicknamed Chandler and Joey because they are a "fan of the classics". And the Fishketeers return in a more significant role after appearing briefly at the end of Tourmaline.

Fans of Brogden's previous work will not be disappointed with his first sequel. He is fast becoming Birmingham's answer to Stephen King: horror, humour and heart are all found within his pages. There is also the inclusion of Birmingham landmarks - another Brogden trademark - such as the Mailbox and Brindley Place.

The Realt is very much the middle part of a trilogy and is best read after Tourmaline because some prior knowledge is required. It also ends with a very unexpected game-changer that will leave you counting down the days until The Aions is released. But that is no bad thing.

For now, The Realt will keep horror, fantasy and Brogden fans very happy.


Evocations
Evocations
by James Brogden
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.00

5.0 out of 5 stars King + Mieville = Brogden, 21 Dec. 2015
This review is from: Evocations (Paperback)
Evocations is the debut short story collection from horror writer James Brogden. The majority of stories in the compilation have been published in various anthologies, such as Den of Eek, Dark Horizons and The Big Issue, so this collection serves as Brogden's greatest hits.

And the stories really are great. I have previously compared Brogden to Stephen King and this has never been more evident. His stories share King's trademark for taking a high-concept bonkers idea and grounding it in the everyday so it becomes utterly terrifying. Brogden treats us to malevolent paint blisters, the Christmas spirit incarnate and a toilet-dwelling octopus.​

Also, like King, he instils a pitch-black sense of humour​ into his stories. Brogden's humour is a unique combination of British cynicism and Australian irreverence, whilst retaining the self-mockery of both nations. His stories will make you smile... when you aren't quivering with fear. I have seen Brogden perform at spoken word events and both Junk Male and The Decorative Water Feature of the Nameless Dread go down a storm with the crowd.

Brogden also shares a talent for delivering inspired pieces of ​flash fiction, which makes this collection ideal for commute-occupying digestion. The Gas Street Octopus and chilling opener The Phantom Limb are just a couple of short pages but will stay with you for years.

Many of the stories feature Brogden's home city of Birmingham, another of his author trademarks, as seen in novels The Narrows and Tourmaline. Readers will learn why the Curzon Street railway station is now disused (it involves zombie cats) and will meet the immortal Smith of Hockley (who finds fellow immortals enjoying a pint in Digbeth). Brummies will also relish references to further landmarks, such as the Rotunda, the Bull Ring and even the Sea Life Centre at Brindley Place.

Brogden is surely one of the only published authors to be specialising in Birmingham urban fantasy. His grudging affection for his city is reminiscent of China Mieville's relationship with London, albeit with a West Midlands spin. It makes for original, refreshing writing, which deserves to be championed by Birmingham avid readers.


The Gears of Madness
The Gears of Madness
Price: £1.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Steampunk Sherlock Holmes, 17 Dec. 2015
The Gears of Madness is the compilation of Iain Grant's hexalogy of first-class steampunk novellas.

I have read and reviews all six over the past two years and it has been an absolute pleasure to delve into the historical, fantastical world of a Victorian age with modern technology, space travel and otherworldly monsters.

The Sedgewick adventures serve as an excellent crash course into the steampunk genre. Each story is bite-sized and easy to digest during a commute. They are also highly readable, in that they are entertaining page-turners with humour, action and mystery packed into their economic word counts.

Professor Sedgewick and his trusty batman Cadwallander are the steampunk equivalent of Sherlock and Watson: the former is brilliant but peculiar, whilst the latter is the loyal grounded everyman.

Four of the stories are told from Cadwallander's very British and gentlemanly perspective, which makes for a very amusing narrative. The other two tales are narrated by free-spirited adventurer Mina Saxena and dutiful Inspector Wilmarth. If Sedgewick is Sherlock then these two are Irene Adler and Inspector Lestrade.

The variety offered by this collection is dazzling, with Grant assembling a greatest hits of key steampunk tropes: aliens on a spaceship, discovering a cult on Mars, relic-hunting in Tibet, a locked room mystery, subterranean monsters and an Armageddon-inducing finale. Each is peppered with historical figures albeit with a fantastic twist, such as Queen Victoria, Empress of India and Mars!

It is hard to pick a favourite because each novella is so different, flitting between genres under the general steampunk banner. Angels of the Abyss is science-fiction, The Well of Shambala is an old-fashioned adventure romp and The Bridge to Lemuria evolves from a detective story to a giant monster movie! Perhaps it is unfair to pick a favourite because all six tales are interlinked through their characters, events and references, and they are neatly drawn together by the final instalment. Although, for the record, Lemuria is my favourite.

The Gears of Madness is a towering accomplishment which deserves a large readership and a Netflix adaptation. Fans of Sherlock and Doctor Who will love these adventures, so grab yourself a copy now. This is Grant's magnum opus.


The Bride's Trail
The Bride's Trail
Price: £1.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Something Old, Something New, 15 Dec. 2015
This review is from: The Bride's Trail (Kindle Edition)
Fans of AA Abbott will be pleased to hear that her latest thriller delivers all of her trademark motifs: sex, violence, shady characters, corporate deals and city-hopping between Birmingham and London.

Abbott once again shows her detailed knowledge of both cities, with references to pubs, streets and regional vernacular all accurate and familiar. This authentic world-building helps the reader become fully-immersed in Abbott's gritty tale and locals will enjoy references to some of their familiar haunts.

As you would expect from Abbott, the past is fast and the narrative hops between the six characters at breakneck speed. Many of these characters are a lot more complex than the characters in her early novels, such as After The Interview, which means you may still be deciding who to root for until the last few chapters. This makes for exciting reading.

Abbott also breaks new ground in the plot, exploring new depths of London's criminal underbelly, such as illegal gambling, identity theft and false marriages, all of which are fascinating. The second half of the novel then focusses on the disappearance of beautiful croupier Kat and the competing friends and enemies who are racing to find her.

The highlight of the novel is the mismatched pairing of sensible Amy and arrogant actuary Ross, who join forces to search for Kat across Birmingham. Their love-hate relationship is very entertaining and turns several corners as the novel unfolds. Another highlight is the dramatic conclusion in the secret tunnels beneath Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter, which makes for an extremely tense and claustrophobic finale.

If you are looking for a UK thriller, equal parts corporate and criminal, then look no further. Here comes The Bride's Trail.


Hellzapoppin': Volume 4 (Clovenhoof)
Hellzapoppin': Volume 4 (Clovenhoof)
by Heide Goody
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Helluva Funny Read, 7 Dec. 2015
he Clovenhoof series continues to expand to Discworld-sized proportions with its fourth outing.

As with the third book, Hellzapoppin' boldly sidelines the central trio from the earlier novels, including the titular Clovenhoof himself, to allow focus on a new group of characters.

This 'new' group are the Welsh island-dwelling monks of St Cadfan's who appeared in Pigeonwings, and also the demon Rutspud who was introduced in Satan's Shorts. A few other familiar faces appear briefly, such as mischievous schoolboy Spartacus Wilson.

The plot focusses on a staircase between St Cadfan's and Hell, allowing monk Stephen and demon Rutspud to form an unlikely friendship, whilst they each have their own mysteries to solve.

As ever, Goody and Grant's trademark Pratchett-style humour is correct and present with vast amounts of theological material to play with. The decision to explore Hell was a good choice, considering the series has already visited Heaven, and allows the demons to shine after the saintly ensemble in Godsquad. The demons are a lot of fun, whether it be pencil-pushing Scabass or the inventor Belphegor who acts as Hell's answer to Q. This is a Hell where demons are punished with a room of kittens and an Enya compilation album.

The monks are equally good for a laugh. St Cadfan's is essentially Craggy Island from Father Ted, with habits instead of dog collars, and lots of them. They also share the same bickering buffoonery found at Unseen University in Discworld.

Add to that the vast number of tortured souls in Hell, which include Boudica, Beatrix Potter, Tesla, Escher, Florence Nightingale, Mama-Na and a Neanderthal, and you have the series' largest cast list yet. Good and Grant brilliantly juggle all of these characters, taking every opportunity to get laughs from such a rich smorgasbord of fictional, biblical and historical figures.

Hellzapoppin' is my favourite book so far in the Clovenhoof series and shows the franchise is continuing to evolve, expand and go from strength to strength.


Godsquad (Clovenhoof Book 3)
Godsquad (Clovenhoof Book 3)
Price: £2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Divine Comedy, 5 Dec. 2015
The Clovenhoof franchise continues with its third installment, God Squad.

Collaborative authors, Goody and Grant, follow the Discworld model by going in a different direction for their third outing, following new characters and benching the heroes of the first two books, including Clovenhoof himself. This is a smart move and shows that the franchise is bigger than its titular star.

God Squad follows a mismatched group of saints, as they travel across Western Europe in search of a mysterious soul called Simon. The shift in genre is another first for the series. Clovenhoof and Pigeonwings were fish-out-of-water comedies, whereas God Squad embraces the road trip genre and the misfits-on-a-mission genre.

The ensemble allows Goody and Grant plenty of comedic material. We have Joan of Arc, the eternal teenager with a sharp sword; St Christopher, patron saint of travel (and toothaches), who is going through an existential crisis due to his lack of worshippers on Earth; St Francis of Assisi, the animal-lover with a lisp; St Mary, the bitter, chain-smoking, beatnik mother of God; and finally the Wolf of Gubbio, effectively Lassie but with bigger teeth.

Their personality clashes make for hilarious scenes as they venture from city to city. They encounter all manner of curiosities along the way: Belgian cannibals, phallic hot air balloons, a love interest for Joan, the Women's Institute who previously appeared in Pigeonwings, an army of dogs and a French nuclear naval base. Many of these encounters are portrayed as standalone adventures, allowing Goody and Grant to continue with the episodic structure that was so successful for their first two novels.

Those worried that the franchise would struggle without the central trio of Clovenhoof, Nerys and Ben need not worry. The bold move of focusing on a new set of characters will keep the series fresh and ensure longevity. After all, none of us missed Rincewind and Twoflower once we had immersed ourselves into the first few chapters of Terry Prathett's third Discworld novel, Witches Abroad.

God Squad is the most fun of the three. Clovenhoof and Pigeonwings had one or two fantastical central characters, whilst the rest were contemporary humans. God Squad is the opposite. All of the lead characters are fantastical figures, each with their own historical and biblical baggage, thereby providing a wealth of amusing material to reference.

Happily, the franchise shows no sign of slowing. The fourth novel will be the companion piece to God Squad, with a focus on demons instead of saints. After that, the rumoured fifth novel is supposedly titled Clovenhoof's Baby.

But for now, God Squad will keep you laughing. Forget Dante. This is the true divine comedy.


The Herald of the Ancients (The Sedgewick Papers Book 6)
The Herald of the Ancients (The Sedgewick Papers Book 6)

5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Swansong to Sedgwick Steampunk Series, 5 Dec. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The final instalment in Iain Grant’s steampunk hexalogy does not disappoint.

It plays out like every decent series finale should: reuniting your favourite characters, wrapping up loose ends, darting around the globe, jacking up the action and raising the stakes to sheer Armageddon.

Narration is back in the hands of Cadwallander, the metal-armed Watson to Professor Sedgewick’s Sherlock Holmes, after a slight detour in book five.

...although that might be over-simplifying the narrative. Thanks to an experimental but brilliant narrative device, Cadwallander (and therefore the reader) is able to experience the viewpoints of several different characters, such as "seditionist adventuress" Mina Saxena and the iron-lunged Grand Duke Alexei Mikhailovich. This head-hopping makes for an exciting pace, as we are introduced to exotic locations and new characters at adrenaline-pumping speed.

Fans of the series, of which there are many, will enjoy the references to the previous instalments. The first two chapters alone reference The Angels of the Abyss, The Bridge to Lemuria and The Shadow Under London. The reappearance of Chioa Khan, the ten-year old Maurits Escher and Queen Victoria herself is very welcome and meets the steampunk expectation of presenting genuine historical figures in a fictional context.

As we now expect, Grant's world is overflowing with invention. A particular highlight are the auto-matichesky-chelovek, essentially men controlled by "engine-driven, punch card-controlled braces" which bind their bodies and force them to carry out tasks. We learn that many men die in this condition but the braces continue to move their limbs, so "the dead [can] dig as well as the living." Chilling stuff.

​The finale is superb, taking place two-hundred miles above Mount Kilimanjaro on an orbital docking station, and literally takes the series to nail-biting new heights.

The Herald of the Ancients is a fitting end to Grant's steampunk magnum opus. I only hope Netflix commission a mini-series because this would be great on screen.


If Everyone Knew Every Plant And Tree
If Everyone Knew Every Plant And Tree
by Julia C Johnston
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Fuschia is Bright for Johnston, 25 Feb. 2015
If Everyone Knew Every Plant And Tree is a charming coming-of-age tale and the debut novel from writer Julia Johnston.

The novel tells of Oliver and the strain put upon his family and friends when his younger sister Lily suffers a long-term sickness. This may sound like morbid subject matter but Johnston fills her novel with bursts of joy and the result is a young adult novel that is both heart-warming and heart-breaking in equal measure.

Oliver is a brilliant first-person narrator and Johnston perfectly captures the voice of a 21st century teenager, with references to texting and Facebook and YouTube naturally occurring.

Thankfully, Oliver is not the stereotypical troubled teen, which can be a tired stalwart of young adult fiction. Yes, he argues with his parents, gets into trouble and has an unrequited crush on a girl at school, but Johnston creates a much richer character than the average literary teenager.

His imagination will often run away with him in fantastic flurries of stream-of-consciousness. At one point, he imagines that his brother will become the first skateboarding priest. Later in the novel, he has ambitions to be the horticultural equivalent to Banksy, planting renegade gardens across London.

Oliver enjoys art, discusses music with his grandfather, bags a role in the school production of Hamlet and has a fascination with horticulture (hence the title). All of this means that the novel is peppered with cultural references. Johnston clearly had a lot of fun researching this novel, particularly the scene in the British Art Gallery and the loving description of each painting.

Johnson has a fantastic grasp of language and incorporates the titular plants and trees into Oliver’s narrative voice, often with a touch of humour. My personal favourite is the name of the local plant shop, The Fuschia’s Bright, which is a pun that made me smile every time.

The supporting cast is large and equally well-drawn. All have bags of personality, whether it be Oliver’s older brothers, his grandparents, the nurse who cares for Lily or his teachers at school. Everyone is handled with care and none are lazily dismissed as background noise. We even manage to sympathise with Oliver’s parents, despite their failed attempts to understand their son.

A particular favourite with readers of the novel is Oliver’s best friend Kamal and rightly so. Kamal has his own sad background but brings stacks of energy to every scene, whether it be Shakespearian swear words, rapid-fire dialogue or the odd rhyming poem. The hyperactive Kamal is a great counterpart to Oliver’s more introspective soul and their scenes are always lots of fun.

Naturally, there is a serious aspect to the novel considering the story is driven by a young girl’s ongoing sickness. Johnston does not sugar coat this experience for the potentially young readership, choosing to depict the grief, the depression and the hospital scenes in thorough detail. This is a wise move and assumes maturity on the part of her target readership, which will no doubt be appreciated. Like Oliver himself, teenagers do not like to be patronised.

As with any coming-of-age story, it is impossible to offer a neat ending because, quite simply, life goes on. I particularly hoped for more closure on Oliver’s relationship with Poppy, which began as an important focus of the story but took a back seat when the family drama intensified.

However, there is time to fix that. Oliver’s story has the potential to continue in a series as long and successful as the Adrian Mole books and, happily, Johnston is already working on a sequel.

The fuschia is bright for Johnston.


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