Book Review – The Lafayette Campaign

This is an author I first came across by way of reading his own excellent review of a book I had previously reviewed, ‘Johnny Nothing’ by Ian Probert.

Andy2Andrew Updegrove is a prolific blogger, primarily writing about the self-publishing industry, marketing, and related topics, providing an excellent resource for any aspiring writer. As well as being a prolific blogger and writer, Andrew Updegrove has a successful background in law, business, and cybersecurity, making him eminently qualified to write this excellent book.’

Further links and contact details for Andrew Updegrove are:

Blog: http://updegrove.wordpress.com/

email: andrew.updegrove@gesmer.com

Twitter: @Adversego

Author site: www.andrew-updegrove.com

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The Lafayette Campaign

A TALE OF DECEPTION AND ELECTIONS
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A brilliant and cleverly funny political satire, a sort ‘House of Cards,’ but better.

Having already read an enjoyed the first in Andrew Updegrove’s cybersecurity/thriller series, I thought I’d give this one a try. This time the story revolves around an upcoming US Presidential election, but one where all the poll predictions are completely at odds with what everyone expects, raising questions about who may be trying to manipulate and influence the outcome? Once again, the US authorities call on the geeky middle-aged, I.T. cybersecurity expert, Frank Adversego, to look into things. Amid his investigations, Frank is also working on the book he’s been contracted to write warning of the dangers around hacking, cybersecurity, and so. 

As in Book One, this is a superbly written cybersecurity themed thriller, but again, riddled with lots of clever and subtle humour, like where the author refers to a security thug as being ‘evolutionally challenged,’ and when he laments about being glad he’s not writing a  political satire instead of a serious non-fiction book, the humour of which becomes even more apparent later on. In many ways, readers from any country will be able to identify with the part money and big business plays in politics all around the world, and not just the US. 

Although this reads perfectly well as a stand-alone book, I was pleased to see some indirect references to Book One, The Alexandria Project, ironically the basis of the book the main character, Frank, is working on during the unfolding story here, and the inclusion of some of the characters from the first book, ie, his daughter, Marla, and boss, George Marchand. Again though, there are plenty of new characters to further engage the reader’s interest. 

Not only is this well-written book, but also a well-researched one too. It does, however, convey a lot of US political workings and cyber-tech explanation though that some readers might get a tad lost in if they don’t already have some interest in them. As a UK reader, I must admit had I read this book when it first came out back in 2015, I might well have got a bit lost in some of the American election procedures and terminology, and quite frankly, found it a little too fantastical and far-fetched. Since then of course, there’s been the improbable election of Donald Trump and all that’s followed to take care of the ‘far-fetched,’ aspect. Also, with all the media coverage that event attracted worldwide combined with innumerable hours of Youtube American news footage of the 2016 US Presidential election, most people now have a better understanding of US electoral workings, so again, this really has become a book that is not only more ‘understandable’ to non-US readers, but a highly topical one too. 

Another super cybersecurity offering; a satire for sure, but given what’s happened in US politics since its publication, really not so far off the mark … loved it!

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Click HERE to read my review of Book One in the series, The Alexandria Project

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iasdpic1Available from Amazon in eBook format, and from several other outlets in both eBook and print formats … See the author’s blog for details.

For links to all five books to date in the author’s cybersecurity/thriller series, please see HERE for Andrew Updegrove’s US Amazon author page

Andy

What are the odds on that? – Flash Fiction short story

highway1

What are the odds on that?

highway2 Howard Jackson was a careful man. He had to be to have gotten away with his twenty-seven murders to date. Today he was hoping to add number twenty-eight to the tally. The young man sitting alone at the table in the service station diner looked a promising candidate. Howard estimated him to be in his late teens, or at most, his early twenties. He doubted if the young man had enough money for another coffee, having watched him nurse the one he had for over an hour. It wouldn’t be long before one of the staff insisted he buys another or be on his way. With the rain now pelting down outside, Howard was optimistic, knowing the weary hitch-hiker wouldn’t relish the prospect of walking however far to the next rest-stop. He had a knack for spotting the most vulnerable and trusting ones.

 

“Another coffee or something? Howard asked, having strolled over to the young man.

“They’ll be asking you to leave otherwise,” he added by way of reassurance.

“Uh? Oh right. Yeah, thanks, mister.” This was going to be so easy, Howard thought to himself.

“So, how far you going? I’m driving south if that’s any help?”

“Yeah, sure would be … and thanks for the coffee too. I was dreading having to start walking in this weather to wherever the next truck-stop is.”

Howard and the young man drank up and made their way to Howard’s car in the customer parking lot.

“Grab yourself a candy bar or a soda from the glove compartment if you want?”

“A soda would be good. And you? You having one too?”

“Nah, I’m good thanks, I had enough in the diner.”

highway3With the rain at full pelt, Howard was driving slower than he usually would. The young man continued to sip at his soda. An hour into the journey, the young man looked like he was nodding off. Howard pulled into a layby, confident the sedative had done its job.

Howard had long since discovered strangers were more ready to accept food and drink from a stranger in their car if it was in a sealed container or wrapper like a soda can or candy bar. The screw cap soda cans were of his own design, practically indistinguishable from the real thing, and the candy bars had each been injected with a liberal dose of etorphine, a powerful animal tranquiliser. Administering it via a soda or candy bar reduced the speed with which it took effect, but it was a safer alternative to risking the recipient putting up a fight if Howard failed to inject the drug at the first attempt. Howard hadn’t forgotten the one that got away, his only failure some six years previous when the sixteen-year-old intended victim hadn’t accepted either the soda or a candy bar and escaped after managing to block the etorphine-filled syringe with his rucksack. From that day on, Howard made it a rule not to proceed if the victim didn’t accept one of the drug-filled sodas or candy bars.

With his intended victim seemingly fast asleep, Howard got out of his car to retrieve certain items from the trunk: a length of rope chord, some industrial strength duct-tape, and a surgical scalpel. As expected, the young man still appeared completely out of it – Etorphine was a thousand times more potent than even morphine. With that in mind, Howard felt quite confident it was safe to proceed. He intended to strip his victim naked, and then use the rope and duct-tape to fully restrain and gag him. And then there would be Howard’s favourite part, a brutal assault and mutilation of the vilest kind of the victim’s lifeless body. First though, he reached down to begin unbuckling the young man’s jeans. What followed was most definitely not part of the plan that had succeeded on 27 previous occasions …

 

highway4“Not this time, mother fucker!” the young man said, ramming a solid uppercut under Howard’s chin before dragging him out through the adjacent car door. Though not as effective as Howard’s etorphine-filled soda can, not that the young man had actually drunk any of it, the upper-cut had highway5stunned his would-be killer sufficiently for the young man to quickly bind and gag the weaker and older Howard with the minimum of fuss or resistance. Oddly, the tone of his voice wasn’t loud, angry, or the outraged sort you might expect from someone unexpectedly finding themselves in that situation. If anything, it was eerily calm and controlled, much like the way he went about slitting Howard’s throat before dumping his body in the trunk of the would-be killer’s own car, sending both to a watery grave several hours’ drive later.

*

Oh, he’d been careful alright, but just a little too careful this time … it never occurred to Howard that someone else might have similar thoughts on their mind, and the same obsession with not getting caught. After all, what were the odds of a highway-driving serial killer picking up his opposite number among the waifs and strays of the hitch-hikers?

highway6The twenty-two-year-old young man had been killing the likes of Howard along the highway from the age of seventeen, barely a year after hitching his first ride at the tender age of sixteen. It was Howard’s attempt at adding the young man to his tally of victims six years before that had set the young hitch-hiker on his path of seeking out and slaughtering men like Howard … Howard’s fate had been sealed the moment he’d been recognised in the diner … by the one that got away.

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For more stories like this and a whole host of other genres besides, stay tuned for … Flashbulb Moments, scheduled for late 2019 …

BookAdd9g

 

Battery Bob … Short story

Another taster story from my upcoming Canine Tales, Book Two in the Creature Tales collection. As can probably be assumed from the cover, many of the stories sit firmly in the blood and gore horror category, but sitting alongside them are several softer and more heart-warming ones. This is one such story …

 

Battery Bob

3D2Billy Marston had been a butcher’s boy before volunteering for France. At only 15 yrs. old, he’d lied about his age to join up, not that the recruiting sergeants inquired too closely when they suspected something amiss about a barely five ft tall youth claiming to be 17. They would inwardly smile at the would-be recruit’s naivety at thinking they had fooled anyone yet admiring their decision to try. It was just the sort of courage that would be needed for what was facing them

Billy wasn’t alone in doing that, so eager were most young men at the time wanting to go fight and for their country. But then, the real fighting had barely started yet, they still had no idea; everyone thought it would all soon be over and they’d be home in time for Christmas.

After a mere twelve weeks’ training in some god-awful cold army camp along the South coast, Billy was passed out as ready and fit for action, a junior Gunner and assigned to an artillery battery.

Mum and dad, his little sister, Ruby, and the family dog, Bobtail, were all there to see him off for his journey to France.

Although the family dog, everyone knew Bobtail was really Billy’s dog. The two had been inseparable before Billy had gone away for his basic training. In fact, Billy’s mum and dad had joked he’d miss that bloody dog more than them.

Whether that was true or not, the little terrier had whined and moped around the whole time Billy had been away and seeing him once more was the first time since the little dog appeared happy. The truth was, Bobtail had no intention of being separated again from the boy who had raised and loved him from the first day he had opened his eyes as a tiny hand-sized puppy.

 

“Hey, boy, be home before y’know it, Bobtail,” Billy was telling the dog, stooping down on one knee to clasp his arms about him in one last hug before boarding the troop ship. Bobtail was licking at the boy’s face and hands, furiously wagging its tail just like he used to as an excited puppy before reluctantly having to give up his attentions as Billy rose to his feet.

Like countless other parents that day, Billy’s mum and dad watched tearfully as their young son, still more boy than man, proudly marched across the gangplank with the last of his comrades to board the troop ship bound for the war in Europe.

Billy’s parents weren’t the only ones with tear-filled eyes. Bobtail too watched anxiously, seeing the figure of his beloved master disappearing from sight. He’d already spent twelve long weeks absent the boy’s loving hugs and playful belly rubs, determined not to be so any longer…

A sudden and unexpected pull of the leash that Billy’s little sister was holding him by saw the dog break free. Cheering roars of approval accompanied Bobtail’s mad dash across the gangplank just moments before it was pulled away for the ship to set sail.

There was no way the captain or anyone else was going to delay the troop ship’s sailing while they searched it just to return one little dog. For better or worse, master and dog were both now bound for France …

 

“Well, Gunner Marston, this is a fine fucking mess, ain’t it boy?” the young soldier’s sergeant was bellowing at him, trying to mask his amusement with his sternest face and tone. Billy stood fixed to the spot, sure that he was more afraid of his sergeant than he would ever be of the whole German army.

Bobtail stood beside his master as if to attention too, his sorry ‘butter wouldn’t melt’ soulful brown eyes looking up at the human making all the noise. Despite the shouting, Bobtail could see kindness in the human’s eyes, sensing this was a good human beneath the stern exterior.

Sgt. Rickman looked down at the dog, their eyes meeting. He also had a dog back home and understood the bond that existed between Billy and the sorry looking dog looking back up at him. Still, he had to at least make some show of punishing the young gunner for the dog’s presence aboard the ship …

“Well, Marston, if you think the ship’s crew are gonna look after yer pet mutt y’can think again, laddy!” The sergeant paused for effect …

“I can tell y’now if this were a longer trip, the little fella would be fish food now!” Billy took an involuntary swallow, convinced Sgt. Rickman had some horrible punishment in mind.

“Still, what’s done is done. He’ll be your responsibility. You’ll be the one feeding and cleaning up after him, and sharing your bunk and rations in case yer thought the army was gonna pay for his grub?”

Relief swept over the trembling young gunner, much preferring to keep Bobtail with him than be locked up in some room out of the way. Still, all he could think to say was: “Yes, Sergeant!”

“Okay. Be on yer way then,” the sergeant huffed, and then just as Billy was about to turn away, Sgt Rickman gave him a wink, and a hint of a knowing grin before he left. A beaming smile swept across Billy’s face as he and Bobtail made their way back to the troop quarters.

“Thanks, Sarge,” Billy had answered before closing the door before him, anxious to be away before the sergeant changed his mind.

Sgt. Rickman sighed and shook his head gently from side to side, wondering what would become of the two of them once they got to the front. He wasn’t hopeful about their chances …

 

scottie2They were a bit cramped in their bunks, but the boy soldiers all gave quite a cheer seeing the two of them come in. Little Bobtail had become a firm favourite among the lads, many of whom were no doubt missing their own dogs. Perhaps Bobtail was a little reminder of home for them? Needless to say, they all chipped in with scraps and titbits from their grub for the little dog that had become their unofficial mascot.

Bobtail absolutely loved all the attention and fuss he was getting. Of course, he still loved Billy the best, but this was like a whole new family for him, and he loved them all.

 

It wasn’t long before the troop ship was docking, and they all were marched off the ship to waiting trucks for the short drive to where their real soldiering would begin.

Bobtail was clearly becoming a little agitated, the sound of guns and artillery already in earshot even before they’d boarded the back of their transport. Billy held him close, and Bobtail seemed to calm down, safely wrapped up in his master’s arms.

“It’s okay boy, nothing’s going to hurt you, you’ll be safe with me, I promise,” Billy said softly, though far from sure he’d be able to keep that promise. Billy had been overjoyed to see Bobtail across the deck, but only now was he beginning to realise how much danger the little dog had put itself in by dashing aboard the ship to be with him. If it had been in his power to do so, Billy would have whisked the little dog right back home that moment. Unfortunately, it wasn’t; whatever the enemy had to throw at them, they would face it together.

Billy doubted the little dog would ever be totally at ease with the sound of the guns and artillery shells, the sirens, or any of the deafening sounds of frontline warfare. He was immensely proud though of the way Bobtail was coping, no longer whining or barking at them now. In fact, Bobtail seemed to be coping a lot better than he was. Until now, Bobtail had pretty much kept out of the way other than to follow behind his master.

No one seemed to mind the extra couple of feet the unofficial battery mascot took up among them in the trenches and had now taken to calling him ‘Battery Bob.’ Even a few of the officers had taken to throwing Bobtail the odd titbit from the scarce rations, grateful for the morale boost he seemed to be giving the men.

After what they’d seen and done in the few days they’d been there, they had long since left their ‘boyhood’ behind them, however much they might have lied about their ages.

 

“We need a volunteer to run a telegraph wire to our forward battery trench to coordinate our advance,” Sgt. Rickman said as he addressed his troop. It wasn’t the sort of assignment anyone wanted to volunteer for. The trench the sergeant was referring too was some three hundred yards across the field of fire of snipers and the constant bombardment of the Jack Johnson artillery shells, so called for the black billowing smoke that accompanied their detonation.

A man made for too big a target running across the no man’s land, and stealthily crawling made him too slow a one, either way making for an unenviable task. Nonetheless and knowing full well the danger, Billy stepped forward …

 

“Good lad,” Sgt. Rickman said.

In truth, Billy was the last one he wanted to volunteer. There were older and more seasoned soldiers better suited to the job, but he didn’t have time to argue and wouldn’t have been doing Billy any favourers showing him favouritism.

“Pass me the wire-roll end as soon as I climb up top,” Billy told the sergeant. Unnoticed by anyone, Bobtail trotted after him as Billy edged himself up and out over the top edge of their trench before someone passed him the wooden rod to which the one end of the telegraph wire was attached. Billy’s job would be to keep hold of it while it unfurled from the wire-roll back in the trench as he crawled through the mud-soaked and barbed wire strewed land. No one had any illusions as to Billy’s chances of making it, but equally, he had to try.

“Shoo, get back down, back in the trench, boy” Billy urged the little dog that had followed him up, trying to shoo him away with his hand too. For once, Bobtail ignored his master’s commands. Bobtail had seen others of the ‘family’ he’d grown to love try crawling across the no man’s land with such things … they hardly ever came back.

Bobtail lunged towards him, grabbing the rod and wire between his teeth before scurrying off into the night. Being little, Bobtail was no greyhound, but he could still run and dart in and out of the tiniest holes in the ground way faster and effectively than any human could.

Billy wanted to shout out to the little dog to call him back but knew that would only attract enemy fire in their direction. Sgt. Rickman too had popped his head above the parapet to see what was happening …

“What the f…?” Sgt. Rickman started to say.

“I’m sorry, Sarge, he just grabbed and run off with it before I could stop him.”

“It’s okay, lad, he’s going in the right direction. And honestly, he’s already got a lot farther than I thought you would, Marston,” the sergeant added, giving Billy a gentle nudge of the arm.

Bobtail completed the task like a seasoned professional, darting this way and that, occasionally stopping to take cover in one of the bomb blast craters before continuing. The whole operation took less than five minutes.

Through their field binoculars, Sgt. Rickman and Billy watched Bobtail make it all the way to the forward battery trench. Five minutes later they watched the plucky little pooch start on its return run, this time carrying a letters pouch, probably containing more detailed communications from their forward battery.

“Good, good dog, great job, love you little fella,” was all Billy could blubber over and over again, hugging and stroking Bobtail the moment he landed practically in Billy’s arms from jumping back down into the trench. Sgt Rickman took the letters pouch from around Bobtail’s neck to take them to the officer in command.

scottie3From that moment on, Bobtail was regarded as much a part of the artillery battery as any human soldier, a canine combatant that had won the hearts and admiration of its comrades.

*

Following the latest offensive, Billy had been catapulted headlong into one of the abandoned makeshift trenches by an exploding artillery shell. Knocked unconscious by the blast, Billy just lay there for several hours, assumed to have been killed by the rest of his battery which had been forced to retreat …

 

Billy had no idea what was washing over his face. He knew it wasn’t the poison gas, he’d either be dead or retching up his insides if it had been.

 

“Urgh,” Billy exclaimed in mock disgust, yet he really couldn’t have been happier. He would have recognised that wet slobbering tongue anywhere, though he did have a moment of panic, wondering if he was, in fact, dead and now reunited with his beloved Bobtail in heaven? But no, the dog’s scent and smell were that of a breathing flesh and blood creature.

They were both still in the land of the living, though from behind enemy lines, probably not for much longer Billy feared. He may have been alive, but the pain in his leg and blood-stained uniform was a sharp reminder their chances weren’t good. He knew he’d lost a lot of blood, and the effects of that were causing him to drift in and out of consciousness.

Bobtail licked at his face for a few moments. It surprised him when a second later the faithful dog suddenly turned tail to run back in the opposite direction towards their own lines of defence.

Billy was confused, though pleased Bobtail might have a chance of getting back to safety. A moment later, Billy passed out.

 

By the end of their time at the front, Bobtail had saved dozens, possibly hundreds of lives from his many runs between the trenches and across enemy territory, carrying vital information, and locating wounded soldiers.

Bobtail hadn’t deserted Billy in running back to the battery trench. As he’d done many times before by now, Bobtail had been sent out to use his acute sense of smell to try and find the wounded Billy in case he was still alive. Bobtail hadn’t failed and led Billy’s comrades right to him before their return to the UK to treat Billy’s injuries.

*

Bobtail had no idea what all the fuss was about, other than he couldn’t remember being happier, having so many lovely people patting him, giving him treats, and smiling.

He wasn’t so impressed with being plonked on a podium and some human he didn’t know placing a ribbon about his neck. Some metal thing was hanging from it too, but Billy seemed okay with it given the beaming smile and look of pride across his face.

If Billy was happy then so was he, though he was tempted to pee over the other human’s arm to show his annoyance. Thankfully he didn’t.

 

“In honour of the brave actions of Bobtail, also known to his many friend and comrades as Battery Bob.” At that point, there was a spontaneous roar of laughter and approval from many of Billy’s and Bobtails’ comrades from the frontline. Bobtail gave a loud bark too, his tail wagging furiously in sync with his persistent yapping.

This was Bobtail’s moment, and Colonel Smythe who had been giving the speech wisely allowed the crowd their moment …

Smiling and giving a gentle rub and pat of Bobtail’s head before continuing: “I take immense pleasure in having presented our canine hero here with this medal for bravery in having saved innumerable lives and to express how proud and grateful to him we all are.” The villagers and crowd cheered their agreement.

Amid the cheering, Sgt. Rickman shouted in his loudest and most terrifying Drill Sergeant voice, “Three Cheers for Battery Bob.”

After several rounds of ‘Hip Hip Hoorays,’ Colonel Smythe concluded his speech with six simple words …

“Battery ‘Bobtail’ Bob, we salute you.”

***

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Book Review – Of Wolves and Sheep.

My review of S.E. Meyer’s captivating novella …

Of Wolves and Sheep (Anna Wool Book 1)

click Here for Amazon US link – Here for UK link

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5stars Loved this terrifying little glimpse into a scarily all too possible future …

This novella lengthed tale of murder, personal and corporate greed, and a mysterious ‘Lonewolf’ character’s attempts to uncover the truth of a mysterious disease infecting the whole world eventually progresses to some startling revelations. Amid the wider story too, a lone detective, Anna Wool, is also looking for a more personal truth, of why her mother was murdered. 

There are many frightening themes touched upon in this story, namely those of the growing influence of social media, the internet, and other surveillance of our everyday lives to name but a few. Combine these with increasing corporate wealth and power, and the lengths to which the rich will go to maintain both, and you have the ingredients for a bleak and sinister future. Admittedly here they are taken somewhat further than in the present, but all the beginnings of the dystopian world in which detective Anna Wool lives can be seen in embryo in the world of today. 

While this reads well as a stand-alone story, it leaves plenty of scope and unanswered questions for Book 2 in the series. Anna Wool Book 1 would though more accurately be described as ‘part one’ of a longer story rather than book 1 of a series of stand-alone books, which isn’t made as clear as it might be from the Amazon description. For entertainment value and quality of writing, it gets a 5-star rating; the characterisation and dialogue are first-rate, and just the right level of excellent description and action to paint a visual picture of the story being told. However, I think it might have read better as a full novel, and for that reason alone, if there was a more precise rating system my overall rating would be, say, 4.7/8. Nonetheless, a darned good read and wider story premise with heaps of potential for further instalments, and certainly enough to entice me into buying Book 2 when it becomes available. 

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See below for S.E. Meyer’s social media links …

Twitter:  @SEMeyerBooks

Fb author page:  @semeyerbooks

Amazon profile:  S.E. Meyer Author page 

 

More about the author …

meyer2S. E. MEYER has been studying ancient civilizations and religions from around the world for over ten years. As a boy, Meyer grew up in the wilderness of northern Ontario Canada and spent his time learning how to hunt, fish, and survive in the north. He moved to the lovely state of Wisconsin at 18, where he has now spent his entire adult life.

Self-employed, a part-time consultant for the Department Of Defense, and now living in the northwestern part of Wisconsin with his wife and two sons, Meyer still loves the outdoors and tries to spend as much time there as possible.

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Gardening, campfires, travelling and fishing are some of his favourite things and Mr Meyer also loves to entertain; either by playing the guitar or through captivating stories on the page. Additional hobbies include reading non-fiction and fiction as well as spending hundreds of hours thoroughly researching the topics in his books.

S.E. Meyer is also a long-standing member and contributor to the IASD Fb group and its sister site at: www.indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com

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(Pre-release) Book Review – Spectral State

Senan1Senan Gil Senan is an author who I’ve reviewed several times before, namely IASDpichis two-part (to date) highly acclaimed Outlander Sci-Fi series, and his equally well-received short story collection, A Stitch in Time

In addition to his regular writing, Senan Gil Senan is a regular reviewer and valued contributor to the IASD FB writing group and its sister site at:

  www.indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com

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Available for pre-order now prior to the 9th February launch date …

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stars5How ‘The Matrix’ might have turned out had it been written by Michael Crichton … Senan’s best yet!

SG9bA first-rate thriller that effortlessly blends elements of different genres. The central premise of the story definitely excels in the traditional thriller style, bringing into it rival intelligence agencies, international and domestic espionage, enemies both home and abroad, and a host of enigmatic characters, particularly several ex-military. Amid all the high-powered spying and covert warfare, there’s also a horrifically unpleasant brutal assault and murder that provides the catalyst for further events. Added to this more familiar framework, the author soon incorporates a variety of high-tech and speculative parapsychology/esp themes, adding a distinct ‘sci-fi’ feel to the story. Some of these ideas and technology, and indeed several of the characters, bear an obvious resemblance to elements of the Matrix, though minus all the ‘human battery’ nonsense I’m glad to say – I couldn’t help thinking at one point this might well have been how ‘The Matrix’ ended up had it originally been a Michael Crichton book. Indeed, early in the story the author deliberately plants those similarities in the reader’s mind with a few throwaway references, and yet, they are quickly expanded upon and treated in an entirely different and original way while drawing in other topical areas of research ie, quantum physics and nanotechnology, to enhance the story. There are lots of twists and turns along the way, with many of the original similarities with The Matrix re-emerging again in the latter part of the story, but again, retaining their own originality. 

The central character, Hano, at first seems like a most unlikely hero or main protagonist, and certainly no ‘Neo,’ at least not initially. Superficially, Hano couldn’t be more different to his potential colleagues – young, no military background, lacking ambition, and socially awkward/shy on account of some unspecified level of autism, possibly linked to the unique talents that lead to his recruitment as a ‘remote viewer’ with a secret government agency. 

For such a clever and ambitious storyline, the author avoided over-complicating things, and I found it surprisingly easy to follow. I was particularly impressed too by the way in which the author handled Hano’s autism, treating it as just another descriptive aspect of his character/persona, alluding to it only where necessary in the same way being young or old, male or female, or even tall or short might be relevant in a story. The science/tech aspects were subtly explained/shown without too much ‘info dumping,’ and again, pretty much at a level that might be expected for the sort of reader with at least a modicum of interest in science and technology, but not obviously beyond the average layman in such areas. Likewise, the military action/characters were not over-emphasised to the point of turning the book into a semi-military story, though having said that, the one tiny reservation I had here was that there were times when some of the military characterisations, fight scenes, and confrontations felt a little ‘skimmed over’ (though better that than over-elaborating and getting stuff wrong), and where, if I’m honest, I felt the author was slightly ‘winging’ it in that respect. Thankfully it didn’t spoil the writing or story in any way, just one tiny area where there might be a little room for improvement in any future/similar books of what has the potential for a cracking good series.

Though I’ve enjoyed the author’s previous books, this latest ranks as his best to date in my opinion. An easy and well-deserved 5 stars!

sg9a   Spectral3  Spectral1

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To follow Senan Gil Senan  elsewhere on social media, please see below: 

Blog: www.senagilsenan.wordpress.com

Twitter: @AngusCactus

Amazon: Sean Gil Senan author page

 

More about the author …

Senan Gil Senan believes that it is the job of a writer to visually transport a reader to a place he or she is unlikely to venture. Then without alienating them, it is to introduce them to a pattern of thought that may differ from their own.

SGSamazonHis writing is not typical of the science fiction and dystopian genres. It is more visionary, in that it examines the effect of technology and bio-engineering on future society. He is an adamant believer that humans will integrate more and more with technology in order to keep up with the deluge of technological advances created by the advent of artificial intelligence. He believes that this emergent sentience will be shaped by human interaction, much the same as a child.

His own interests include psychology, noetic science, physics, theology & philosophy and ancient history. He agrees with RR Martin who said that any writer who is looking for an intriguing character, a gripping scenario or plot twist, needs to look no further than the pages of a history book.

He was named Senan, by his father Patrick Gilsenan who thought that the name would look good on the cover of a book. He was an Irish printer who yearned to see his own prose and poetry appear in print. Sadly he died before achieving either ambition. Senan left behind the beauty of Sligo in Ireland to set off for London and oblique strategy of career choices. These included working fourteen years as a computer systems engineer. He has also worked as a self-employed financial trader, a writer, an employment adviser, and as a bar manager. He still lives in South London with his wife and family.

Book Review – The Herbalist: Memoirs of a ‘so-called’ Witch.

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norman7A great introduction to a talented and new author for me, Norman Turrell is the best-selling author of several books covering Sci-Fi, fantasy, horror, and other strange stories, and one Iiasdpic1 discovered via the IASD Indie Author Support And Discussion Fb group/website.

 

The Herbalist:

Memoirs of a ‘so-called’ Witch

stars5A sometimes sad but equally enchanting tale of recollection and another time, when the magic of nature and witchcraft were often confused.

norman5Advertised in an online social media post as ‘a short, cheap read’ hardly does this little gem justice. I must admit, a cursory glance of the cover would have had me scroll pass this one, assuming it to be a book on either homoeopathic remedies or cooking with natural ingredients. Thankfully I was intrigued enough to catch the sub-title and blurb, and was rewarded with a short novella length story and an hour and half of bewitching entertainment. Even before I got into the wider story, the opening imagery struck me as some of the best I’ve read in a long time. Far from just providing unnecessary padding or distracting me as is so easily the case when they’re over-done, the descriptive elements here really brought the story alive for me; images of picturesque woodland cottages with old-worldly rustic kitchens and sitting rooms, norman3bottled potions and herbs sitting on shelves, and wizened old witches and the spritely younger generation learning their craft  filled my imagination.

norman1 norman2

This is a story that through its flashbacks to the past spans three generations, of old and now somewhat forgotten knowledge being passed from mother to daughter in each case. It’s also one filled with drama as both a young and then aged Amelia recalls the past, and what today might be called superstition and old wives’ tales, but which was once as very real to the people of the time as modern medicine and science are to all of us today. Though hardly on a par with the witches of Salem or burnings at the stake, there is throughout a strong undercurrent of witchcraft and magic, and indeed the danger of such practices or even the suspicion of it brought on by the use of herbs and potions. If I had but one minor concern, I would have preferred a more conclusive ending, though having said that, perhaps the author will reveal more of the young Amelia’s past life in the future and answer some of the questions the story left me with. Nonetheless, an easy five stars for this one. 

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With the exception of the cover, images are simply to illustrate my review and do not form part of the book

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Norman Turrell can also be found at the following social media links …

Author site:  www.normanturrell.com — Twitter: @NormanTurrell Facebook: @AuthorNormanTurrell

Click HERE for the Norman Turrell’s Amazon author page …

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Book Review – Wolvz: Whispers of War

toneye3Toneye Eyenot is an author I discovered via The Bold Mom horror review/promotion blog. With an extensive catalogue of novellas, short stories, and even some flash fiction covering everything from werewolves to vampires, ghouls and demons to freaks and the supernatural, there’s pretty much something for everyone among the horror fan community … 

This is the first story of his I’ve read/reviewed, but it proved to be every bit as good as I had been told.

See below for the author’s social and other media links …

Facebook: @toneyeeyenothorror  & @luniakkpublications

Twitter: @ToneyeEyenot  & @Luniakkpub

Bookbub: @Toneye Eyenot

Website:  www.luniakkpublications.com

***

Wolvz: Whispers of War

stars5Be afraid … Be VERY afraid … Creature savagery at its very best!

toneye1This is a fine and well-written novella length story that draws on the folklore and mythology of werewolves and Lycans, those creatures of the night that epitomise the horror that can accompany a full-moon. Written in the first person from the perspective of Shona, a Lycan and high-ranking member a werewolf/Lycan pack, we learn that she has good reason to hate humankind, showing them no mercy when she confronts them.

As the Wolfhaven pack prepare for their long-term and, ultimately, final battle with their hated human adversaries, the action is both savage and gory, yet doesn’t rely on overly explicit bloody detail for its impact, instead being portrayed in a cold and matter-of-fact way that, if anything, makes it all the more chilling.

While this is a story filled with savagery and hatred towards humans, the author skilfully avoids losing the reader’s sympathy with subtle commentary on why such animosity exists, and the differences between how wolves and humans interact with nature and the environment. Amid all this savagery though, there are some wonderful lines of subtle humour too i.e. …

‘… the humans played their final hand, and we are biting it off.’

‘… he showed a bit of guts, so I won’t gorge on his.’

Although this is an easy five stars for me, I would have liked just a tad more explanation of the subtle differences between werewolves and Lycans woven into the narrative, but otherwise, this is an absolute must-read for any horror or ‘creature tales’ fan. I’m not sure at this point if ‘Wolvz: Whispers of War’ is to remain a stand-alone novella or is the first of a continuing series (hopefully it is!), but either way, I’m looking forward to reading a whole lot more from this author.

***

Click HERE for Toneye Eyenot’s Amazon author page:

toneye2

More Longer Wacky Stories with Twist Endings – Book Review

jmw9

jmwThis latest short story collection is the fifth by John M. W. Smith that it’s been my pleasure to read and review. John M.W. Smith has had many stories published in various women’s weekly magazines and literary journals, and his short story collections are an established favourite among Russian readers where as well as being hugely popular, are also used as an English language teaching aid.  

In addition to my review here of ‘More Longer Wacky stories,’ I’ve also included my past reviews of some of his other collections.

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See below for John M.W. Smith on social media …

Website:             www.johnmwsmith.my-free.website

Blog:                    www.johnmwsmithswackyweeklyblog.blogspot.co.uk/

Facebook:          @twistendings

Twitter:              @wackyscribe

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More Longer Wacky Stories with Twist Endings

stars5‘Twist in the Tales’ scenarios done to sheer perfection, loved every one of these little gems !!!

jmw3It’s been a  few years since I read one of this author’s excellent short story collections, and I must say this latest novella lengthed 13 story anthology is the best so far. As in previous collections, the stories culminate in some unexpected twist in the tale, some quite startling while others are more of Ah-ha moment, though not once did I remotely see what it would be in each case. Mostly the stories stick to just one or two female characters (though not always), allowing the author to develop them more than is usual within the confines of a short story. Some of the tales are truly uplifting and will make the reader smile, but in a bit of a departure from previous books, others are indeed a tad sad, and equally sad, are more reflective of the not so nice side of human nature, as is the case in A Lonely Heart Breaks Easily.

This collection is definitely grittier, and with more of an edge to some of the stories that I’ve seen in previous ones, venturing into more controversial (almost taboo) themes such as in the third offering, It’s So Easy to Fall in Love, where the wronged woman turns out to be far more predatory than the reader is originally led to believe. 

Most of the author’s stories centre around female characters, some strong and self-assured while others are often more fragile and vulnerable, so in some respects it’s easy to see why they would enjoy such popularity in women’s magazines/journals, and yet, I maintain, these stories are of a much wider appeal to anyone who enjoys cleverly crafted scenarios, great writing and dialogue, and in every case, an unexpected but totally satisfying conclusion to a story. I really can’t praise these little gems more highly.

*** 

MY PREVIOUS REVIEWS OF THE AUTHOR’S WORK …

Wacky Stories with Twist Endings  – Volumes  1 to 4

(Available in eBook & print formats via Amazon)

 

 

Volume 1: 

stars5Stories to bring a smile and a chuckle to any reader

This is a short collection of eight humorous short stories, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. The ‘twist at the end’ in the first four stories are more the sort to make you smile and chuckle rather than gasp in amazement, but every scenario and ending are entirely believable and just the sort of situation that any reader might readily identify with. In the later stories, the twist ending tend to have a bit more ‘punch’ to them, and the stories steadily become a little more intricate.

The author keeps the number of characters to a minimum in each case, and within the obvious confines of a short story, the characters are well-developed with convincing and natural dialogue. Each story is written in an easy to read and follow style, yet despite their apparent simplicity, all are actually very clever and well crafted.

By the author’s own admission, the stories are primarily aimed at a female readership, but the quality of writing and story-telling does I believe give them a much broader appeal. I shall certainly be reading and reviewing the other three volumes in this series.

*

Volume 2:

stars5 More chuckle-inducing stories with a mischievous and unexpected twist at the end.

Another short collection of eight short stories; as in the previous volume of this collection, every story is well crafted and wholly believable. Again, not one of these stories will fail to bring a smile and a chuckle to the face of the reader, but unlike the previous volume, the stories here are a little more involved, with a slightly more adult and mischievous flavour to them.

For such short stories, some of them are quite complex, dealing with issues of romance, family, and work issues. Again the characters are convincing and well-developed. The increased complexity of the stories, as compared to volume one, does require a slightly greater degree of concentration from the reader, but the rewards are more than worth it.

Overall, another great volume of well written and light-hearted stories which fans of the short story genre and women in particular, will really enjoy.

*

Volume 3:

stars5Another ‘naughty but nice’ addition to this highly entertaining series …

Well, this is the third volume of stories I’ve reviewed in this series and once again, I’ve not been disappointed.

Without reiterating too much of what I’ve said in my previous reviews, each of these delightful short stories has an unexpected, and in this volume more so than in previous ones, a quite often rather `naughty’ and punchier twist in the ending – never more so was the term `naughty but nice’ quite so appropriate. Compared to previous volumes, I think the stories here are, whilst still quite charming, are tending towards slightly more adult orientated themes. Again the reader never really sees what’s coming, and the author is an adept at leading the reader up the garden path so to speak before firmly tugging them back to a really effective punchline and conclusion.

What I’ve also noticed and enjoyed in this third volume is the way author very quickly settles the reader into feeling comfortable and familiar in what they’re reading; although each story is different and unique in its own way, there are often striking similarities in names, places, and the domestic settings in which they occur that you could almost feel that you’re reading another chapter in the lives of the characters in a previous story, much like that sense of familiarity you might encounter in reading the sequel to a novel. By employing such techniques, many of the characters appear much more developed and rounded than they might otherwise, given the limitations of the short and flash fiction genres.

I would agree with the author’s own admission that his stories are indeed aimed at a primarily female readership, and this volume perhaps more than in previous ones, but as your typical Neanderthal male, I too enjoyed them immensely and as such would contend that they still have a much broader appeal that of their intended market. Another great collection, and again, highly recommended …

*

Volume 4: 

stars5A deliciously diverse collection of stories to both shock and make you smile …

This is the fourth and last volume of the ‘wacky stories’ series. Like the previous ones, all the stories are well written, and mostly with a deliciously naughty twist in them.

One of the dangers of anthologies such as this is that there can be a tendency for the stories to become repetitive, but here we have a refreshing diversity. Just when you think you’ve got the stories figured out, the author throws in a couple that are as delightfully sentimental and smile-inducing as you can imagine; the first story has quite an adult theme to it, treating the reader to a really sharp and almost shocking twist, whereas in another of the stories, the author leads the reader in a very definite direction, only to delight with a more gentle shock, and of the most touching confirmations of enduring love as I’ve read in a long time.

Yes, the stories are aimed at a female readership, but I think their appeal extends much further. I will certainly be reading some of the author’s differently themed anthologies in the near future. All in all, a great series that I would heartily recommend not only a female readership but anyone who enjoys cleverly written stories of the ‘twist in the tale genre’…

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Click HERE for the author’s Amazon author page, and links to all his books …jmw9a

Please, Granddad … Flash Fiction story.

A little ‘Flash Fiction’ piece, part of another little project I’m working on for later in the year, hope you like it …

 

Please, Granddad …

I’d been pretty darned healthy my whole life and fit too – a long stint in the army had seen to that! Even after I joined civvy street, despite a brief period of being a complete and utter slob for a few months following my freedom from the discipline of military life, I stayed active. The one blot on my otherwise healthy lifestyle though was the fact that I smoked. We all did back then. Most of my friends, including many from my army days, had long since given up the filthy habit. I hadn’t though. It had never occurred to me to even try. The fact was, I enjoyed smoking. And why shouldn’t I? I mean, I was a damned sight healthier than most of my non-smoker friends. Maybe it was just good genes; my grandparents had both smoked all their lives and lived well into their eighties. And what would the National Health Service do without the exorbitant taxes I paid on every puff I took? It was us smokers who practically financed the NHS, I told myself.

smoking6And then I got the news, the diagnosis that nobody wants to hear. I had Stage Two Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. I had no idea what stage two or non-whatever it was actually meant other than it was cancer. I couldn’t help thinking the worst. For it to be stage two meant there was a stage one, and that stage two must be worse?

            The news hit me hard. Why me? Apart from the smoking, I had always looked after myself. I drank only moderately, I got plenty of exercise, cycled, and hell, I even climbed bloody mountains.

I was 57. I knew I was no spring chicken, but I’d hoped for maybe another 20 good years of life, or at least long enough to see my grandson grow to be a man.

Was I just one of the unlucky ones, or had I only myself to blame? I’d never really believed my own rationalisations about smoking. I knew damned well it was bad for me.

            My doctor didn’t approve of smoking. Well, they don’t, do they? But he knew it was a typical reaction to blame oneself. He reassured me it was just one of those things, that the smoking had nothing to do with it. I was sure it was through gritted teeth he admitted that last bit. I was grateful though. Still, whether it had anything to do with or not, I was going to give up anyway.

smoking1I failed miserably – quitting cold-turkey, nicotine patches, vaping – nothing worked. I was a confirmed addict, even with the threat of death staring me in the face. I gave up trying to ‘give up.’

 

smoking2It had been several months since my last chemo session. I’d deliberately not visited my family for over a year. Of course, I’d seen my son and his wife when they visited me in the hospital and at a few other times. One thing I was adamant on though, young Patrick, my grandson wasn’t to see me while I was going through the barrage of treatments I was having.

I knew it upset him not being able to see me. It worried me that he’d think I’d stopped loving him. But what could I do? Seeing me completely bald, no eye-brows, sickly and gaunt looking, it wouldn’t have been right for a wee lad.

 

Since my last treatment, my hair had grown back, and I’d put most of my weight loss back on (and even a bit more). I just couldn’t wait to see my grandson for the first time since I had started the chemo and radiotherapy treatments. My son and his wife were spending the day with friends, leaving Patrick and me to some quality grandson and gramps time together.

We’d spent hours just playing, laughing, and watching films together until I was pretty exhausted. Amid all the fun we’d been having, I’d gone without nicotine for several hours now …

 

smoking3“Now you sit here, Little man, and watch your cartoons while Granddad goes for a smoke.”

“Please, Granddad, please don’t smoke. I don’t like it.”

            “It’s okay, Patrick, I’m going outside to keep all the smelly smoke out of the house.”

The look on his face told me his reaction had nothing to do with the smell of cigarette smoke. I sat beside him on the couch, putting an arm around his shoulder.

“What’s up little buddy?”

“I’ve missed you. I don’t want you to be ill again.” It was beginning to make sense now.

“Aww, you don’t have to worry about that. It was something quite different that made me ill. The smoking won’t make it come back.”

He stared at me. I could see he was trying not to cry.

“Smoking’s bad for you. It makes you have cancer.”

That last bit startled me. The little lad was only six, but he already knew the word cancer. He certainly didn’t know exactly what it meant, but clearly, he knew it was bad. By now it was me trying not to cry.

“Smoking didn’t cause my cancer, Patrick, really it didn’t.”

I held him a little tighter, hoping that might reassure him. He was having none of it.

“Promise you won’t smoke again. Please, Granddad … I don’t want you to die.”

smoking4By now, the wee lad was sobbing. Now you all know the feeling: You feel your throat tightening, and a screwing up of the eyes as they fill with tears. You breathe a little harder. You take an almost ‘gulp-like swallow, and then another. All the while, that ‘welling up’ feeling overcomes you, right down to the pit of your stomach.

            “You win. I promise.”

I’ve not smoked since …

smoking5

 

***

Why Write?

Depositphotos_2488689_original typewriter3

Well, what to say here? This is an article I wrote back in 1995 for no other reason than that it was the very first piece of writing I ever had published (3rd prize in a competition for which I was awarded the princely sum of £20). I’ve tidied it up a bit since then, but the text essentially remains the same  

***

                             Why Write?                                                         

Typewriter2

Why Write? An interesting question you might agree, but one with a multitude of answers. The same question could well be asked of those who follow other creative pursuits. What compelled Van Gogh or Gaugin to paint, despite their sufferings, or Beethoven to compose even though he was profoundly deaf? Or, returning to my original question, the Bronte sisters to write when publication seemed an impossible dream? This passionate need for self-expression is in every writer who yearns to achieve authorship as their career. Many of course believe writing to be an easy job with huge financial rewards at the end of it; if money is your sole motivation then you are probably not a born writer. This isn’t to say money should not be a consideration, but its value to many writers is the freedom it allows them to work at what they most enjoy, in their own time and at their own pace. Then, a writer’s intention may merely be to entertain, which is I believe to be an excellent reason for writing; any occupation that brings light relief and enjoyment to so many people is an admirable one. To bring enjoyment to even one person can be a source of profound satisfaction:

rona“One of my greatest rewards came a year or two ago, mailed to me care of my publishers –  an envelope with a Glasgow postmark containing a scrap of paper on which was written very simply, ‘thank you for all the enjoyment your books have given me’.  It bore no address and no signature, and accompanying it was a Scottish pound note. I have never parted with either. That kindly gesture has been kept as a talisman ever since. My only regret is that I have never been able to thank that unknown reader.”

Rona Randell, (authoress)

quillIf, in your own writing, you are fortunate enough to experience such a moment you may well be well on your way to answering the above question. For many though the urge to write is born out of circumstance. One important thing to appreciate is that writing is a solitary and often lonely occupation. This works both ways: writing leads to solitude, but solitude can also lead to writing. It is this last consideration that brings me to my own reasons for writing. It would be untrue to say that I had never wanted to write before a serious accident rendered me housebound for several months, but it was little more than an unconscious desire, submerged for the most part by the many competing attractions and obligations of everyday life, emerging only rarely during moments of quiet solitude, or after having read something particularly enjoyable or inspiring. It was only then I sometimes thought, yes, I’d like to write something like that and to write as well as that! But such occasions are few and far between. For myself it had always been impossible not to allow the pressures of family and everyday life combine to make any serious attempt at writing an impractical, if not impossible dream; perhaps I used this as an excuse, for indeed there are many who overcame such obstacles to realise their dreams, but for me, the constant rationalisation that there was always tomorrow, the day after, or the weekend, to start putting pen to paper, held me back. My own fault I admit. What made me do so was, again, among other things, having read a book that I found particularly enjoyable, Nineteen Eighty-Four if I remember correctly. Upon finishing it I decided I too would like to write something similar (or at least try). Being housebound as I was I felt as trapped and imprisoned as is possible to be short of being a guest of Her Majesty. Ironically though it was those very circumstances that provided the very time and freedom I needed to write – or at least freedom from all the excuses that had fed my past procrastination. Thus finally inspired, my main obstacle was to put down that first word, a daunting prospect for any fledgeling writer. But once you have taken that first step the writing becomes easier. Word follows word, sentence follows sentence, and paragraphs take shape to form chapters until such time as that elusive first poem, article, short story, or even a novel may one day emerge. It may seem ironic, even absurd that such an incapacity might provide one with any kind of freedom, but given the right attitude and self-discipline it can be equally surprising just how conductive a temporary restriction of one’s physical freedoms and mobility can actually be to any new, or even I should imagine an experienced writer. Cut off from many of the distractions of the outside world and pursuits of ordinary life, being housebound encouraged me to call upon the resources of my imagination and experience. One only has to think of those have found themselves truly cut off from the outside world, I speak of course those writers and authors who have for whatever reason begun or continued their writing whilst in prison:  Dostoevsky, Oscar Wilde, Daniel Defoe, and, more recently, the likes of John McVicar, and Jimmy Boyle. Evidently, solitude can be developed into a valuable resource. It can enable one to get in touch with one’s deepest feelings, to form ideas, and encourage the growth of one’s creative imagination, culminating in the elusive ‘written’ word. But what of the benefits of writing? Not the obvious ones of possible fame and fortune, but the more personal, more intimate? During those months of recovery, it would be absurd to suggest that writing in any way changed the physical reality of my situation but it did provide an enjoyable and often fascinating pastime, a marvellous form of escape if you like. It was only when I was alone, with a pen, paper, and a desire to write that I finally produced my first literary efforts. The circumstances were far from ideal but with pen in hand (or fingers on a keypad these days), a few ideas, and a fair degree of imagination, I could be anywhere in the world, create any scenario – an entire world and its characters were there for me to create and immerse myself in. Often I would find myself totally absorbed in what I was trying to say and the struggle involved in trying to transform my thoughts into some form of readable prose. This was not always and indeed still isn’t an easy task. My recovery was slow but nonetheless eventually complete, and my enforced solitude came to an end. It was by no means the ideal milieu for my writing but it was the catalyst for it for which I shall always be grateful. To conclude then, there is no magic formula as to how or why people write. Only you, the writer, can answer that question. And for each of us, I suspect the answer will be different. But whatever the reason, only you can make it happen: imagination, a love of words, creativity, enthusiasm, and the desire to write – those are your tools. All you need is to take the opportunity to use them.

Hamed M. Dehongi

I'm Hamed M. Dehongi. I am a writer and this is my blog. I like writing poetry, short stories, and novels.

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