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The Bridge to Lemuria (The Sedgewick Papers Book 4)
The Bridge to Lemuria (The Sedgewick Papers Book 4)
Price: £0.77

5.0 out of 5 stars The Steampunk Pacific Rim, 28 Nov 2014
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This is the fourth of the Sedgewick Papers - the popular series of steampunk chapbooks by author Iain Grant. The franchise shows no sign of stagnating because this is the most ambitious and entertaining to date.

References to all three previous adventures can be found in the first two chapters, which serve as rewarding Easter eggs for returning fans and will hopefully prompt new readers to delve into the past escapades to satisfy their curiosity.

After adventures in space (Angels), Mars (Pearl) and Tibet (Shambala), the series finally returns to British soil for its latest mystery with investigative duo Professor Sedgewick and his trusty Cadwallander back in their beloved home country. The story begins in Cambridge, with a very British opening gambit about police constables, whilst the city itself is lovingly described as a garden.

Cadwallander is back as narrator after a brief substitution in the third installment, which means his unique brand of pompous and proper humour is also back. After an uncomfortable carriage ride, Cadwallander tell us, "If public decency had not prevented it, I would have attempted to rub some feeling back into my insensuate fundament." Classic Cadwallander.

This begins as a locked room mystery, a staple of the Victorian era, and perfect for this steampunk series. Sedgewick and Cadwallander find a series of victims who appear to have gouged out their own eyes after reading a mystery piece of paper. The first half of the story pursues this intriguing mystery across the country...

...but then Grant throws the reader a curveball. As the trail leads the heroes to the Lowestoft-Zeebrugge bridge, the genre shifts from murder mystery to big budget monster movie! An otherworldly tentacled monster rises from the sea; airships and men in giant iron suits fight the beast with bullets and flamethrowers; and thousands of extras flee as the seaside town crumbles around them. In short, this is the steampunk version of Pacific Rim.

My personal favourite moment is a reference to a seven year-old M C Escher, suggesting that his artwork was inspired by the unnatural proportions which he witnessed when encountering the inter-dimensional monster!


Angel Bob
Angel Bob
Price: £1.85

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Angel Bob is best described as Roald Dahl meets Pigeonwings, 7 Sep 2014
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This review is from: Angel Bob (Kindle Edition)
Angel Bob is the first children's book by author Iain Grant.

It tells the story of a lonely girl called Myrtle who meets a young angel after he crash-lands at a nearby allotment. Myrtle names the angel Bob and vows to help him return to the Celestial City but the villainous Professor Hoom wants to capture Bob and study him.

Angel Bob is best described as Roald Dahl meets Pigeonwings. The novel has a light, playful tone that will appeal to young readers but it shares the plot of Grant's comic novel Pigeonwings, which also told of an angel being stranded on Earth and being baffled by everyday life.

Like all good children's literature, Grant presents the everyday with the fantastic. Trivial acts which children can relate to (feeding pets, visiting the library, playing in the playground) are presented alongside the magical arrival of the angel and his tricks (glowing halo, healing hands, feathered wings). The clash of worlds between Myrtle and Bob allows for plenty of wonderful writing.

Grant reins in his extensive vocabulary (see the Sedgewick Papers for examples of that) and delivers unfussy prose instead. Despite the language being aimed at a young audience, the writing remains strong and Grant manages to convey complex emotions with simple words and images.

For instance, when describing the villainous Professor Hoom: "There was something about him that Myrtle found a little, well, creepy. Maybe it was his extraordinary long fingers or his shiny little eyes or maybe it was neither of those things. She couldn't explain it, even to herself." This basic description is ideal for young minds, allowing the imaginations of children to fill in the details. There is humour too. The children discuss glowing sheep, Hoom repeatedly bellows "Observe!" and Bob discovers a passion for toast.

Ultimately, this is a sweet story about friendship and a charming read for young minds.


Deeds Not Words
Deeds Not Words
Price: £1.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Brummie Read, 30 Aug 2014
This review is from: Deeds Not Words (Kindle Edition)
Deeds Not Words is the second novel by Birmingham author Katharine D'Souza.

It tells the story of Caroline, a museum curator in Birmingham, who is recently divorced and unsatisfied with her life. The novel immediately picks up pace by presenting Caroline with three dramatic turn of events: 1) an anonymous figure arrives at the museum with a mysterious object, 2) Caroline's one-time fling Olly arrives in the city, and 3) Caroline's grandma falls sick and vows to reunite her broken family by changing her will.

As with any second novel, fans want to see everything they loved about D'Souza's debut novel, Park Life, but they also demand something bigger and bolder. Deeds Not Words delivers on both fronts.

Returning fans will once again be rewarded with a strong female protagonist, a vast range of characters and writing which celebrates the city of Birmingham for its story-telling potential. However, D'Souza also ups the ante for her second novel, offering readers a more ambitious plot which delves into the history of Birmingham's suffragette movement. It is clear that D'Souza has done her research and she blends historical points of interest into the story without ever derailing into a dry lecture.

D'Souza is very skilled in presenting her lead characters with moral dilemmas, naturally prompting the reader to consider themselves in similar situations. For instance, Caroline has to consider whether to respect her grandma's wishes at the risk of upsetting the rest of her family. She also has to consider whether to pursue a relationship with Olly, which is fun but against her better judgement. Much of the interest for the reader is seeing how Caroline works through these dilemmas.

D'Souza also has a talent for depicting grey characters. There are few obvious heroes and villains. Olly confidently swaggers into Caroline's life looking for romance after cheating on his wife. However, the same cocky character offers Caroline support (and free art appraisals) as the novel progresses. Adversely, Caroline's mother Alice becomes less and less sympathetic, despite her own mother's illness. This complexity of characters elevates D'Souza's work over similar novels in the genre of chick lit.

There are a few minor quibbles. One of the three plot points described above is abandoned quite early and could have been omitted entirely. The ending also feels rather abrupt with a few plot threads that could have been explored further, especially the future plans of the family. However, it is not a bad thing to be left wanting more.

Deeds Not Words is a brilliant Brummie read and is available for Kindle and Kobo.


The Well of Shambala (The Sedgewick Papers Book 3)
The Well of Shambala (The Sedgewick Papers Book 3)
Price: £0.77

5.0 out of 5 stars Well Good, 15 Aug 2014
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The Well of Shambala is the third volume in Iain Grant's ongoing steampunk series, The Sedgewick Papers. Interestingly, Professor Sedgewick does not actually appear in this outing, nor does his loyal companion Cadwallander, who served as narrator in the first two volumes.

The narrator and heroine on this occasion is Mina Saxena, the River Song-style adventurer who appeared as a secondary character in the previous adventure, The Pearl of Tharsis. This is not confirmed until the end but I do not see this as a spoiler because it will be obvious to anyone who read Pearl and will mean nothing to those who haven't.

Happily, Mina Saxena is every bit as engaging as Cadwallander, adept at providing observational dry humour and possessing a vast Victorian vocabulary. She may lack Cadwallander's prudish British gentleman moments (always a treat) but she instead offers a female perspective of the time, as well as the perspective of someone in opposition to the British Empire.

Grant continues to vary his series to ensure it does not go stale. This time, the action is set on Earth in snowy Tibet rather than in outer space as with Pearl and Angels of the Abyss. Readers can also enjoy a much higher body count than the previous two, with extras being dispatched in numerous new ways. Death by yeti! Death by space goo!

Nevertheless, the series retains its steampunks motifs. Further historical figures find their way into the story, notably Herbert Walton, a surgeon who truly did provide aid to Tibetans during the British Occupation of Tibet. Equally, there are more appearances of steampunk technology, including a sled pulled by engines instead of huskies, a giant satellite gun in orbit called the Gloriana and the iron lungs of Duke Alexei Mikhailovich. The latter is a great addition to the cast who, like Mina Saxena, proves that not all heroes are on the side of the Brits.

Fans of the previous Sedgewick Papers will not be disappointed by this third installment and, if you are new to the series, there is no better time to start.


The Pearl of Tharsis (The Sedgewick Papers Book 2)
The Pearl of Tharsis (The Sedgewick Papers Book 2)
Price: £0.77

5.0 out of 5 stars Steampunk Rock, 28 July 2014
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Professor Sedgewick and Cadwallander return in their second novelette, The Pearl of Tharsis.

Those who enjoyed their first steampunk outing, The Angels of the Abyss, will not be disappointed. Iain Grant's mastery of the steampunk tone has returned with the adventure once again narrated by Cadwallander. A typical Victorian gentleman, Cadwallander is pompous, prudish and very un-PC but ultimately loyal, lovable and unintentionally hilarious. Also, fans of the first novelette will finally learn the fate of Cadwallander who was left in a precarious situation at the climax of the original. The resolution is very satisfying and offers a further dalliance with the steampunk setting.

This is not just more of the same and Grant happily ups the ante, as you would hope from a follow-up. The action is relocated to an alien planet, Mars, which offers a change of scenery from the spaceship of the original. Instead of a battle against alien forces, the action here is a battle of words against an alien diety which presides over an eternal party beneath the Martian surface.

There are also new characters to meet, such as Chioa Khan, a reference to English occultist Aleister Crowley, and most importantly we are introduced to Mina Saxena. In my review of its predecessor, I referred to Professor Sedgewick as a Doctor Who figure, which would make Mina Saxena the River Song of this series: a brave, beautiful and brash adventurer, both a foil and equal to Sedgewick himself.

The description of the Martian party is ominous, chilling and grotesque, and Grant's experience as a horror writer is put to good use. The diety figure of Aiwass is similarly unnerving, described expertly as bestial, aristocratic, pious, all at the same time: "Like a spinning thaumatrope, like the flickering image in the corner of a picture flip book, like the multitude of names and titles Chioa Khan had piled on his master, Aiwass was all of these things at once."

The Pearl of Tharsis is an accomplished second instalment in this steampunk series and fans will be pleased to hear that the third novelette will be released in July 2014.

Expect big things from this franchise. The Pearl of Tharsis, like its namesake, is a hidden gem worthy of discovery.


The Khalifah's Mirror (Dedalus Original Fiction in Paperback)
The Khalifah's Mirror (Dedalus Original Fiction in Paperback)
by Andrew Killeen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars The Arabian Game of Thrones, 28 July 2014
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The Khalifah's Mirror is Andrew Killeen's follow-up to his superb Arabian adventure, The Father of Locks.

Abu Nuwas, the titular Father of Locks, was a character befitting his own franchise and the follow-up allows Killeen to explore the life and adventures of his hero. The novel is structured around an episodic series of flashbacks, as both Abu Nuwas and his story-telling protege, Ismail, recount the former's life story.

This is a fantastic narrative approach because it effectively turns the novel into a series of novelettes, each of which can be devoured as a standalone adventure. These adventures revisit Abu Nuwas at different stages of his life, both before and after the events of The Father of Locks, meaning that The Khalifah's Mirror is both prequel and sequel, providing an origin story for the dashing Arabian poet but also offering catch-ups with characters who we knew and loved from the original novel.

The flashback novelettes are rich and diverse, spanning the globe and therefore broadening Killeen's historical world which was established in The Father of Locks. Killeen provides Abu Nuwas with plenty of great escapades: he extracts a terrorist from rival desert tribes, romances a Sri Lankan princess committed to a forced marriage, searches for a lost treaty by following Da Vinci Code style clues, infiltrates a forbidden city and hunts a faceless Roman assassin called al-Sifr, the Void.

The pursuit of al-Sifr is a reoccurring theme across the majority of the flashbacks and provides Abu Nuwas with a nemesis, a prerequisite for all great heroes. Abu Nuwas is equal parts James Bond, Aladdin, Captain Jack Sparrow and Sherlock Holmes, which would make al-Sifr his Moriarty, a mysterious and anonymous threat that plagues Abu Nuwas' adventures. The enigma of al-Sifr is a gripping page-turning device and culminates in a shocking revelation, which will not disappoint.

As I said in my review for The Father of Locks, this is no ordinary historical fiction. This is One Thousand and One Nights with an R rating. There is plenty of old school adventuring to enjoy, such as sword fights, romance treasure trails, palace conspiracies and exotic destinations, but there is also a good deal of sex, violence and swearing to satisfy the Game of Thrones generation. As such, The Khalifah's Mirror is ridiculously entertaining and deserves to attract a mainstream audience.

I recommend this novel without hesitation.


Blue Eye (The Blue Eye Series Book 1)
Blue Eye (The Blue Eye Series Book 1)
Price: £3.08

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Type of Thriller, 6 July 2014
Blue Eye is the debut novel from author Tracy Elner and provides a fresh spin on the thriller genre.

It tells the story of Scott Carty, a derivatives trader plagued by vivid dreams. Carty is asked to deliver a locked briefcase to an energy conference in Eastern Europe and becomes embroiled in the sinister dealings of his boss. Soon after, Carty is a wanted man hiding out in the Siberian forest, where he discovers he is not the only one seeking solace there.

All of the trademark thriller motifs are correct and present: conspiracy, globe-trotting, murder, beautiful women and long-kept secrets. However, Blue Eye is a new type of thriller, abandoning the usual detective and crime sub-genres to instead focus on alternative energy and harnessing the power of the subconscious.

It is unique to find a thriller where the action is rarely conveyed through fistfights, instead opting for debate, corporate fraud investigations and psychoanalysis. This may sound dry but it is testament to Elner's direct writing style that you will be turning the pages as quickly as if this were a Lee Child novel.

Elner's protagonist, Scott Carty, is an equally unconventional leading man. Carty is not a detective or an ex-military man. He cannot fend off attacks from multiple adversaries like Harry Hole or Jack Reacher. Instead, Carty is an everyman who works in finance. His special abilities are a knowledge of renewable energy and an increasing respect of Jungian theory. He would rather rely on the I Ching than his fists. Carty's ordinary nature is what makes his adventures so extraordinary and Elner proves that any character, if written well, can make for an engaging leading man.

Much of these extraordinary adventures are set in the Siberian forest, the taiga, around Lake Baikal, the Blue Eye of the title. It is a fascinating backdrop for a thriller, providing an intriguing second act where Carty can learn more about energy. Boris the Buryat teaches him about qi life energy, whilst scientist Lubimov makes Carty aware of impossible advancements in renewable energy. Both Boris and Lubimov are brilliant additions to the novel.

Ultimately, this is a fascinating read, packed with well-researched information about its subject matter and unafraid to tread new ground. This may well be the first energy thriller ever written.

Elner's next novel, the follow-up Green Eye, is currently being written. Based on the strengths of Blue Eye, expect this to be a very successful series. Keep an eye on Elner.


In That Other Dimension
In That Other Dimension
Price: £3.08

5.0 out of 5 stars Hitchhiker's Guide to the Multiverse, 30 Jun 2014
This is the very funny debut novel of author Matty Millard, a comic talent with lots of potential.

In That Other Dimension is top science-fiction comedy, with larger-than-life characters and no small amount of ambition. Millard has a good grasp of how to deliver comic literature, specifically to always keep one foot on the pedal, steering the novel from chaotic set-piece to chaotic set-piece.

Comparisons to Douglas Adams are obvious and deserved. This is a great opportunity to hitch-hike across the the multiverse and, with Millard in the driving seat, you will be glad that you rode shotgun.


The Narrows
The Narrows
Price: £6.07

5.0 out of 5 stars Birmingham Urban Fantasy, 30 Jun 2014
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This review is from: The Narrows (Kindle Edition)
The Narrows is the superb debut novel by James Brogden about the titular magical pathways that weave their way through Birmingham.

The novel is driven by two residents of Birmingham. There is Andy who lives in the everyday side of the city and there is Bex, one of the Narrowfolk, who can negotiate the magical alleyways. Their friendship brings the two sides of the city together and they form an alliance to stop the villainous Barber, who intends to exploit the power of the Narrows for his own dark purposes.

The Narrows is urban fantasy at its best, combining the surreal with the everyday. This is a novel where Narrowfolk can cut across the city in minutes, evading the monstrous skavags and living in an invisible shelter at the end of a cul-de-sac. However, this is also a world where people play X-boxes, watch Deal or No Deal and own Spongebob Squarepants DVDs. Brogden relates the fantastical to the everyday, with similes that reference pop culture such as Hogwarts, Reading Festival and Jeff Goldblum's The Fly, all of which ensures the magic remains grounded and believable.

Even better, this is more than just urban fantasy, this is Birmingham urban fantasy. England's second city is packed with potential for a fantasy novel and Brogden clearly enjoys himself weaving Brummie landmarks into his story. The German Christmas Market makes an appearance, lovingly described as "a child's jewellery box crammed to overflowing." The Rotunda, "a visionary landmark and a concrete toilet roll," features in a climatic battle scene. Even the famous Number Eleven bus route plays an important part in the plot. All of this makes The Narrows essential reading for Birmingham residents.

Aside from his witty description and crackling dialogue, Brogden also knows how to keep a story moving. He is a writer that knows when to introduce a curveball. The novel switches from the everyday life of Andy to the fantastical shelter of Moon Grove, so far so routine, but then readers will find themselves taken back to the fifties, or swept away into another world entirely with a nomadic desert clan. With Brogden, you can never tell what will lie waiting on the next page.

I would recommend The Narrows to fans of Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and Charles de Lint, and, of course, anyone living in Birmingham with a taste for the fantastical. This is funny, exciting, terrifying dynamite. Enjoy.


The Father of Locks
The Father of Locks
Price: £8.41

5.0 out of 5 stars The Arabian Sherlock, 9 Feb 2014
"I have an idea for a story which will contain all the other stories in the world," says one character in Andrew Killeen's debut Arabian detective novel, The Father of Locks.

In many ways, this is exactly what Killeen himself has achieved. The Father of Locks is fundamentally a detective story but this primary plot is often put on hold whilst a character tells another story to provide back-story or history or religious fable. In this respect, it shares much with the Middle-Eastern fairy tales of One Thousand and One Nights, which ultimately makes for a rich reading experience and adds great variety and depth to Killeen's novel.

The foremost plot involves Abu Nawas, the titular Father of Locks, and his new protege, Ismail, investigating a series of child abductions in the great city of Baghdad at the request of the Wazir. Abu Nawas and Ismail soon form a Sherlock and Watson relationship: bonding, bickering and saving each other's lives as they encounter numerous adversaries along the way.

Those not interested in historical fiction set in ancient Arabia may hesitate to approach such a novel. However, this is ancient Arabia as directed by Tarantino, containing all the sex, violence and bad language of an episode of The Sopranos. If you like George R R Martin's fantasy novels then you will love Killeen's historical fiction. The comparison is particularly fitting as The Father of Locks boasts an equally vast cast of characters, all fully-realised, three-dimensional and a joy to read about.

The frequent poetic verse is also a welcome addition to the narrative. After all, Abu Nawas is one of the most revered poets of his time so the inclusion of poetry is to be expected. Killeen's delivery of verse is every bit as accomplished as his prose and this talent, along with his extensive research into this period of history, helps the Birmingham author stand out from his contemporaries.

Abu Nawas himself is a superbly layered character - poet, scoundrel, genius, drunk, fighter, bisexual, detective - and deserves his own franchise. Happily, Killeen has already written a follow-up starring Abu Nawas which I will soon be adding to my Kobo. You should too.

I heartily recommend this novel. It is an Arabian delight.


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