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Austin Hackney

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Poison (Cambridge Murder Mysteries Book 1)
Poison (Cambridge Murder Mysteries Book 1)
Price: £4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A great read for a lazy sunny afternoon., 9 April 2016
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I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I thoroughly enjoyed it.This is the first "cozy mystery" story I've ever read. I bought it on a whim because I enjoyed the author's tweets and photography of Cambridge, a town I used regularly to perform in when I worked in touring theatre. I was charmed by the cover and thought I'd give it a shot. I don't think it has converted me to the genre per se, but I'll certainly look out for the next in this series and be happy to read it.

Charlot King's prose is evocative, clean, spare and subtle; entirely in keeping with the mood and pace of this ultimately intriguing and charming book. Her key protagonists - Elizabeth Green, the eccentric, fifty-something Professor of Poisons who discovers the first body at the foot of her garden, and Inspector Abley, the incompetent and lazy policeman - are nicely drawn, and the quirky, sometimes awkward but endearing relationship between them gives real pleasure as well as serving to push the plot forward. The supporting cast are all credible, fascinating, if not always likable people, each with key roles to play in the unfolding mystery.

The setting is delightful. When I finished reading I felt as if I had actually revisited Cambridge again after all these years! Ms. King's intimacy with the town, and her love of the place shines through in every page. Her photographer's eye for emotion-provoking detail is also apparent in her words. Her evocation of the tone, politics and atmospheres of College life is no less wonderfully created.

The story is intriguing and surprising, but this is in no way a page-turner. I don't mean that in any derogatory sense. On the contrary, I loved its quiet voice and gentle pace. I suspect it is part and parcel of the genre. The book flows along as gently as the meandering river Cam itself. But that serves to make the shocks and surprises all the more shocking and surprising when they come. The ideal place to read it would be the sunny corner of a glasshouse surrounded by exotic plants, with the sound of a river nearby, a fresh pot of tea, and nothing else to do for the rest of the afternoon.

If you're already a fan of the cozy mystery genre, I think this will be your five-star find of the year.

I look forward to the next in the series.

London Shadows (Penderry's Bizarre Book 1)
London Shadows (Penderry's Bizarre Book 1)
Price: £1.99

5.0 out of 5 stars What a delight this book is! London Shadows is a rare gem of a book., 9 April 2016
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What a delight this book is! London Shadows is a rare gem of a book. Set in Victorian England, but one in which ghosts, demons, occultists and paranormal shenanigans are all part and parcel of the foggy underground of the London streets and the glittering chandelier-lit ballrooms of the aristocracy. The author has clearly done her research, too, and she incorporates that research into the weave of this tale so expertly that it never intrudes on the story but helps build the credibility of this intriguing version of the great capital. But there’s a lot more to this book than expert world-building. It’s the characters that spring to life between its pages that really make this such a charming, entertaining and ultimately satisfying book.

The troubled demon-hunter and journalist, Freddie Westman, and his companion in adventure, the bright and scientifically-minded Sophie Penderry, are the key protagonists in a story which is a ripping adventure mystery steeped in paranormal ghostliness which will have you engaged, entertained and rooting for the protagonists from the first page. The author has created something very special in her key characters and the relationship between them. Broom the manservant is a classic character. The villains are villainous, but credible and flawed. All her characters are exquisitely drawn and brought to life. You will come to love them. You’ll miss them when you finish the book and be longing for the sequel so you can be reunited!

And Weaver’s prose is perfectly crafted, her descriptions just right, her dialogue accurate, witty and paced. She manages to write in a style which evokes the spirits of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, or Conan-Doyle, and yet remains eminently accessible to a contemporary reader. She writes with a grace and charm which are rare these days in genre fiction.

And if that wasn’t enough, there is a quirky originality to the author’s imagination (the mouse demon in the library and everything that ensues, for example) which will delight and surprise you at every turn. The plot is complex enough to keep you guessing, but easy enough for younger readers to follow. There are twists and surprises along the way and the subplot of the budding romance between the protagonists adds sweetness and humour to off-set some of the darker elements.

I’m usually reluctant to dish out five stars to anything. To deserve five stars, something has to shine. It has to sparkle. It has to zing. It has to delight me to the degree that I can’t believe it only cost me the cover price to read.

London Shadows gets five stars.

Sky Song: Overture
Sky Song: Overture
Price: £1.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous, dark, beautifully crafted steampunk adventure with a feminist heart. Top read!, 19 Mar. 2016
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I really enjoyed this book from the first to the last words. It’s a finely-crafted combination of an emotionally engaging, character-driven storyline, exquisite steampunk world-building, and page-turning adventure yarn. It works on multiple levels. It’s simultaneously a rollicking pirate adventure; a feminist critique of a brutalized and corrupt society; an original and enchanting love story; a dark tale of suffering, revenge and, ultimately, redemption. The fact that it manages to be all these things and a damn good read to boot is testimony enough to the skill of a very smart and talented writer.

The main character, Clikk, who we first get to know as a light-fingered Sky Pirate with a dark secret, is a beautifully drawn, credible, sympathetic and complex protagonist with a strong motivation, whose personal transfiguration during the external events of the story drive the plot to its conclusion.

Merriet has created a believable world; complex, dark and intriguing, populated by a cast of well-drawn supporting characters. The beautiful, spare prose, masterfully handled dialogue, and powerful emotional impact of the sometimes disturbing story told, serve to elevate this book above the usual steampunk adventure fare towards something more approaching the timelessness of true art.

But that said, at its heart it fulfills all the expectations of the genre and can be enjoyed at any level. I can’t imagine anyone, whether they are familiar with this kind of fantasy or not, being disappointed by this book. I think it’s brilliant and I look forward to picking up the following books in the series.

In Praise of the Ugly Man-Sweater: Thoughts about writing, books, and the people who read them
In Praise of the Ugly Man-Sweater: Thoughts about writing, books, and the people who read them
Price: £1.40

4.0 out of 5 stars A pleasing and entertaining read., 8 Mar. 2016
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In a little over thirty short, personal essays, Shaw serves up her quirky take on writing, social misfits, manners, dieting, parenting, the wisdom of children, and other witty and warm observations from her daily life as an author and bookseller.
Shaw writes in a light, conversational style which often belies the perceptiveness and wit she brings to the effortless treatment of her subjects. All these essays are witty – some even have laugh-out-loud moments; but don’t be deceived, as there is a gentle but more serious commentary on parenting, education, reading and the meaning of human relations, unobtrusively present within these comic, accessible narratives.
Shaw’s essays are frank and honest and ring true with the authenticity of her voice. The reader is left with the impression that she would make an excellent dinner guest or keep the conversation rolling at a party.
Even those characters she disagrees with or doesn’t like are portrayed in all their humanity. There’s an essay entitled “An Arrogant Bastard,” for instance; but in the end Shaw’s deeply human portrayal of the gentleman referred to in the title leaves the reader smiling and feeling pity rather than anger.
In “Frog Love” she reveals a writer’s ear for the vernacular whilst demonstrating a real empathy with modern teens in a story which expresses a comic but also touching conversation between two young women in the bookstore where she works. In other essays, such as “What Happened to Gerhardt?” the author shares anecdotes both moving and hilarious, told by her customers.
It’s a delightful and entertaining read. The writing is engaging and the narratives always interesting; and there is insight and compassion in there as well as humour. The essays were originally blog posts and if I have one small criticism it’s that the fact does show. The book would have been improved by developing some of the essays a little further for the collection. But in the end, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Shaw has written a pleasingly light-hearted look at snippets of her personal life that will entertain and enlighten, and certainly has the “feel-good factor.”

Butcher's Crossing (Vintage Classics)
Butcher's Crossing (Vintage Classics)
by John Williams
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Typical Williams, 6 Mar. 2016
A young man from Boston drops out of University and heads West. He joins a team of hunters. They kill lots of buffalo, get caught in a snowstorm, fail to sell the hides, one dies, two go mad and the young man, after a brief dalliance with a prostitute, heads off he knows not where. Ends.

It would be a hard synopsis to sell to a modern literary agent. It was a hard sell for Williams back in the day, too.

This is typical, existentially bleak stuff from Williams. If you like a page-turner and only a page-turner, forget about it. If you're happy to drift along, carried by gentle currents of exquisite prose and a compassionate but ultimately tragic sense of human futility, you'll love it. Don't expect the suffering to be relieved by redemption at the end. Williams doesn't do redemption.

I enjoyed his other book, "Stoner" far more, but if you like Williams at all, you'll like this.

The Brilliant Women Collection
The Brilliant Women Collection
Price: £2.40

5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Collection - Not Only for Women!, 3 Feb. 2016
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What a truly splendid little book! Eve Merrier writes in a charming, lighthearted and conversational style which makes for an easy, approachable read. But do not be deceived. There's a seriousness, a radical undercurrent to this, which makes it far, far more than a collection of female biographies. Through sharing not only the breadth and depth of women's achievements in every aspect of history and society from earliest times to the present day, but also a very personal perspective from her own thought and experience, Eve Merrier quietly but effectively informs, enlightens and challenges in equal measure. This book raises one of the most important questions of our time: how long before the injustice of gender inequality and the patriarchal prejudices which sustain it are reformed and removed from the way we educate our young people? This book should be required reading for girls, boys, teachers, parents and ... well, everyone. If you haven't read it yet, read it now.

Flash Gold (The Flash Gold Chronicles Book 1)
Flash Gold (The Flash Gold Chronicles Book 1)
Price: £0.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Steampunk Lite - at its best!, 21 Aug. 2015
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Inventive, solid storytelling that kept me happily entertained from start to finish. It's hard enough to find stories in this particular niche (Weird West) which is a sub-genre of Steampunk, which is a sub-genre of Alternate History, which is itself a sub-genre of SF/F! So anyone who enjoys this kind of stuff should be as happy as I am to have found Lindsay Buroker's novellas.

The characters are interesting and fun to spend time with and while some folks might find the predictability of their stories off-putting, I really don't mind. There are no new stories after all, only new ways of telling them, and Buroker does a great job of spinning an engaging genre yarn into a fine bit of story-cloth: recognizable enough that you know what you've got, but inventive enough to delight you with genuine surprises.

I've just bought the rest in the series, so that's pretty honest evidence of the fact that I enjoyed this one - I also have a feeling that they'll get better as the writer grows into the characters and their stories a bit more.

If you're looking for a satisfying, light read that ticks all the boxes and leaves you feeling happy and satisfied, this is it.

Get Started in Writing Young Adult Fiction
Get Started in Writing Young Adult Fiction
Price: £7.49

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you want to write and publish YA, read this first., 18 Jun. 2015
There are gazillions of 'how to write and publish' books out there and I've probably read most of them. There are few that give real insight from highly respected industry insiders. There are fewer still that translate that insight into solid, actionable advice. Fewer yet that offer that advice in crystal clear, accessible and appealing prose. This book does all of that and more.

It is possible to read this in one sitting to get an overview. You can also work with it as it is intended: a complete, practical course that will take you step by step from your initial idea to a complete, publishable manuscript perfectly tailored for the YA market.

As one of the industry's most dazzling agents, Juliet Mushens also packs in the value by showing you exactly how to develop the perfect pitch, put together a convincing cover letter and a synopsis that will make you stand out to agents and publishers.

Ms. Mushens also shares honest insights into the pros and cons of self-publishing, the traditional publishing route, and the option of operating as a hybrid author.

For many first time authors working through the fog of mystery and confusion surrounding the publishibg industry, and hoping to break into the YA genre, this generous and always readable book will be like a sudden glorious dawn lighting up the sky after a long, dark night.

Write. Publish. Repeat. (The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success) (The Smarter Artist Book 1)
Write. Publish. Repeat. (The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success) (The Smarter Artist Book 1)
Price: £3.99

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most useful books for writers who want to be read., 3 Jun. 2015
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This book is written primarily for authors planning on self-publishing (and as a vehicle to promote the authors' self-published books - a fact about which they are entirely up-front), but really it is jam-packed full of superb, excellent, first-rate advice for any author who wants her work to be read. The truth is that even if you are traditionally published, these days you are going to have to do most of the marketing yourself. This book will enthuse you and serve you an 'all-you-can-eat' buffet of plentiful, practical, actionable advice. And if you don't want to read it, just remember the title: write, publish, repeat. Really *getting* that - indie or trad - is worth the cover price in its own right.

City of Fiends
City of Fiends
Price: £5.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars this is was a cracking good read! It's a finely crafted medieval whodunit that ..., 23 July 2014
This review is from: City of Fiends (Kindle Edition)
In short, this is was a cracking good read!

It's a finely crafted medieval whodunit that manages to convey the thorough research underpinning it and still remain a gripping page-turner.

The characters are beautifully drawn and memorable. The villains are about as nasty as they come but our protagonists, flawed as they are in some ways, will seem like dear friends by the end. You'll miss them when you close the back cover. Fortunately they all appear in other books in the series.

There is murder, intrigue, viciousness, greed and duplicity. There is also a somewhat world-weary compassion, sensitivity and determination to see justice done. The plot will keep you guessing to the last twist. The period is evoked in delicious detail without succumbing to too much description in the prose. It's tightly plotted, nicely written.

If, above all, you value top-notch storytelling and a writer who has complete command of his craft - this will not disappoint.

I shall be getting my hands on another of these gems as soon as I can.

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