The Road by Cormac McCarthy– Review

Depression Trigger warning:

This is my first Cormac McCarthy novel and in all honesty it’ll probably be my last. At present I have no desire or intention of ever reading McCarthy’s work again. This isn’t a reflection of the quality of his writing, which is in fact, wonderfully creative. Staggeringly so.

McCarthy employs a very simple, but wholly immersive narrative style in this book. His characters are nameless. Cormac gives them a gender and a rough age, but that’s about it. His sentence structure is stripped down to the bare bones, in that he discards conventional use of punctuation and grammar, in favour of a flowing, short structure, cut with the occasional longer, more poetic monologue from the narrator’s point of view.

This approach is hugely effective. The short, sparse structure reflects and amplifies the bleakness of the world he has placed his poor characters into. The longer monologues are beautiful, insightful and heart-breaking at times; these moments shine a bright light onto the broken structure between, making the shadows they cast and struggles described in them all the more dark…. inescapable.

Aside from the skill in the rudimentary narrative and prose, Cormac employs some of the most immersive, descriptive settings and conveyance of the complexities of emotions his characters suffer through I’ve ever experienced.

This book is so wonderfully written, it is simply beautiful, the use of language to convey such hardship, such stark, stripped back humanity and beauty, but by God, it is bleak as fuck, and the most emotionally-draining piece of literature I’ve encountered.

The world of The Road is so very bleak, so lacking in joy or comfort or hope. Reading this book was a trial for me, I didn’t want to continue, but its beauty and humanity and raw splendour dragged me along despite myself.

If you are in any way prone to depression or periods of low moods, I would recommend avoiding this book, at least until happier times. It is a marvel, it is simply one of the most staggeringly gorgeous and horrifically desperate pieces of fiction I’ve read. I’ll never read this book again, but the gap it let in me will remain forever.

Daydreams and Devils by Robert Cowan– Review

With his second offering, Robert Cowan has avoided any treading of water and built on the best of his debut, The Search for Ethan, developing his skillset substantially. With shifting narrative, complex and engaging characters, and an entertaining plot peppered with occasionally acerbic humour, Cowan’s sophomore offering shows none of the signs of that difficult second album. Instead Cowan’s lovely writing simply entertains and immerses the reader into a very real-feeling setting and into the lives of his very relatable characters.


In Daydreams and Devils, we see a more confident Cowan, gaining his stride and stretching his literary legs, culminating in a novel that significantly betters his first novel, which itself was a very good book. Cowan deserves a larger readership and with offerings such as this book, he’s well on his way to producing an excellent body of work for new readers to discover and binge on.

You can find Robert Cowan and his books at Amazon US and UK.

Daydreams and Devils is available for 99p/99c at Amazon now.

The Medea Complex by Rachel Florence Roberts, Review

Utterly compelling and quaintly contemporary

The Medea Complex is one of those stories. The ones you drag yourself along to the cinema to see after reconsidering because there was nothing else on, or read because you happened to have it and then discover how close you came to missing out on a truly unexpected wonder.

R.F. Roberts has hit the ground running with her debut novel. A veritable whirlwind of bewilderment, fear, edginess and the blackest of gallows humour. Roberts conveys the feelings, fears and amusement of her characters, the confusion, jealousy, love and ambition they feel and are driven by, expertly. Roberts gives the reader an uneasy feeling right from the first page and maintains that level of edginess and suspense throughout.

For a first-time author, Roberts is remarkably self-assured in her use of first-person narrative. Many debut authors resort to this narrative style for the sake of simplicity, Roberts merely brandishes it as a mechanisms with which to carry her readers along and amplify the eagerness of the reader to unfold the motives and consequences of her characters and their actions. Simply brilliant skill, and one that normally needs a book or two under the writer’s belt to use with this kind of confidence and effect.

Roberts has clearly done her research and despite historical fiction not really being my thing, I found this book utterly compelling and strangely contemporary in its quaintness.

For me this book fulfilled the promise that recent psychological thriller Before I go To Sleep by S.J. Watson failed to deliver. A truly creative and skilled debut novel.

The Medea Complex is available on Amazon UK and US



Strangers are Just Friends you Haven’t Killed Yet by Ryan Bracha – Review

Strangers are Just Friends you Haven’t Killed Yet by Ryan Bracha is one hell of a book to review.

At some points this book had me frustrated, at others delighted. Ryan has a unique ‘voice’ and utilises the written words with bravery, imagination, originality and barely any regard for the conventional techniques for forming a compelling narrative, and it doesn’t half work for him.

Mixing narrative styles and using a variety of methods to show, rather than tell, Bracha picks away at the world he’s created, gradually exposing the reader to a piece at a time. Whilst Ryan’s book is not perfect, it meanders a bit too much for me at times and could do with a little editorial tightening up throughout, his enthusiasm, insightful characterisation and understanding of what motivates flawed people drives his story forward with force and pulls you into his world. And what a world it is.

I rarely read work as original as Bracha’s and whilst this book has some minor flaws, Bracha’s later novels show a writer who is improving with each word he writes but who is maintaining those exciting quirks that make his writing so fresh and engaging.

Ryan is the literary equivalent of Jack White. A force of personality, passion and talent, who can’t stop being productive. Often with White, some puzzling work emerges, but in the sheer torrent of productivity, both White and Bracha are the kind of talent who stretch themselves and take minds and their art to places that less brave creatives wouldn’t dare. In this regard Bracha excels and seems to me in his creative storm and unrelenting development as a writer to be a bastard offspring of said Mr White, Irvine Welsh and Chuck Palahniuk.

Ryan is a great advert for why the Indie-Author route is so valuable for some writers. A book like this one and a writer like Bracha would struggle to be anything but ignored by mainstream publishers, consigned to the ‘not-marketable’ pile simply for being so daring, non-conformist and for dancing to his own literary tune.
What a shame that would be.

I’m looking forward to watching this very talented writer continue to develop his literary muscles and continue to write great stories the way he wants to.

You can find Ryan and his books here


Book Review – Baron Catastrophe and The King of The Jackals by Ryan Bracha

I hate short stories, I mean I really hate them. Short stories are the literary equivalent of a premature ejaculation. They get you invested very quickly in a good time and ‘splat’….it’s over….Frustration, dirty looks and snoring. Unanswered questions, half-formed plots and uninspiring characters are the order of the day.

Not so in Bracha’s wee world. In Baron Catastrophe and The King of Jackals, Ryan gives us fully-formed and complex characters in just a few pages filled with well-chosen words. I’ve read 800 page novels with less interesting characters.

The people who populate the pages of this short story somehow develop in the miserable little fragment of time that Ryan affords us with them. He’s a selfish man in this regard. A more tight-fisted-bastard-wordsmith you’ll never read. But it works.

The Baron, an Asperger’s suffering, self-harmer trapped in an OCD world of musts and have-tos is perfectly presented. The sentence structure that the author uses to convey his man’s stop/start, itchy frame of mind is skillful and hugely effective. The filthy, sad, brilliant wee creep had me at an itchy hello.

The story’s other main character, a sausage-handling sandwich vendor also left me wanting more.. Sandwich man should have been detestable, he’s potentially awful, but like John Niven does with his creation Steven Stelfox, Bracha has you laughing along with him despite knowing you shouldn’t. Christ, I’d have a sandwich in his shop, nae’ bother.

Short on words this volume may be but each and every word utilised shapes two awkwardly brilliant characters and moves the story at pace to where you didn’t want it, but needed it to go; a sickly satisfying ending.

Did I want more? Yes. Did I need more? No.

You can buy Baron Catastrophe and The King of The Jackals here now.


Book Review – Tears in Tripoli by Paul A Rice

After reading Parallel – The Awakening by Paul A Rice, I really didn’t see how he could top the book. I had my reservations also when I noticed the tagline to Tears in Tripoli “A Jake Collins Novel” thinking “Oh Christ, not another book written and intended as a series.” I always find books written as a trilogy (or whatever) short of pace, character development and any real action; the authors seem to hold back on their initial books to save the really big scenes and reveals for the last act.

I’m glad to say, once more, that Paul has surprised and delighted me with the standard of his writing. This annoyingly talented writer has taken everything that made Parallel great, the dialogue, the pace, great characterisation, really engaging and descriptive action scenes, and most of all a heart at its core, and amped them all for this book. Jake Collins is a hero in every sense of the word. Flawed and weak; strong and determined. A fighter in every sense of the word.

In the past I’ve avoided this genre like the plague, but after following Paul’s work for two books now, I’m a convert. When the writing’s this good, there’s no avoiding genre outside your comfort zone. Paul has plenty left to offer in terms of stories for JC and at the rate this guy’s writing is progressing the next book is shaping up to be something a little bit more special again…

How annoying is that?

Book Review – The Other Side by Terry Tyler

Well.To say that this book was a surprise to me is a massive understatement. In all honesty I almost never read this genre of book and rarely read female authors, (Anne Rice and Herper Lee aside..)a sad state of affairs I know. In this case though, I pulled on my big-boy pants and indulged my feminine side a wee bit for two reasons.

Firstly, I have the odd tweet and FB chat with Terry and she’s braw. Secondly, I liked the Sliding Doors/alternate reality/ mess about with time feel the blurb conveyed (I’m a sucker for stories with what ifs and weird running order.

With The Other Side I got way more than I expected. Well fleshed-out characters who properly developed (in reverse?) as their stories were revealed and interwoven at the skill-full hands of Terry. How she kept this story straight in her head whilst producing it is testament to her creativity, her patience and her logistic talents.

Each character was believable and engaging for me, which I find isn’t always the case for many authors who can barrel through pre-set story markers and forget to realistically describe how their characters change from state A to state B.

Off the back off Terry’s book I’ll be exploring more of her back catalogue and will welcome the new books at my disposal now I’ve broken through the “female authors don’t entertain me” mental block.

Simply; if you like clever, flowing, funny and very human story-telling, in any genre this book will surprise and entertain you as it did me. Give it a go.

Book Review-Life is Local by Des McAnulty

It’s not often I finish one book from an author and delve straight into another ( the last time I did so was with Jonathan Mayberry’s wonderful Rot & Ruin books)’ but as I enjoyed Des’s Novella “STRAIGHT” so much, don’t mind risking being labelled a fanboy when the writing is this good, and had time on my hands I went in with hungry eyes (not the Patrck Swayze sort). .
Now I’m not suggesting that McAnulty is anywhere near as accomplished as Mayberry, but in formulating flawed, weak very human characters whom he allows to grow, fail and shine throughout the book, Des shares some of Mayberry’s skill.
Presenting us with complex (in other words true to life) characters whom we like, dislike, love, hate and pity; Des skillfully peels away at his characters, exposing unsuspected depths in each one. He gives each characters motives without judgement, merely explanation and leaves it to the reader to decide on the characters’ worth.
Stubbsy is a fine example. Part Begbie, part Juice Terry, part Sam from Quantum Leap and the most complex character in the book. It’s ultimate hero for me, and I’m hoping for some early tales of the big man in future.

Des writes in the Scottish tongue (first person), in the style of Welsh I suppose, but switched between a very Scottish narrative and a more toned down version as suits the characters’ mental state at the time of the narrative. I’ve never been a fan of this in books and much prefer when writers keep the accented or colloquial phrases to the dialogue rather than narrative, but it never did Irvine any harm and it doesn’t detract from Des’s excellent story either. Merely a personal preference on my part. I think that Des is still experimenting with his preferred narrative and look forward to seeing how his work evolves in the next book.
Des’s book is reflective of the culture it is set in (North Lanarkshire) in that it’s rough, coarse In places, unpolished, unpretentious and beautiful in its heart and soul. It seems that Des loves and loathes his native county and presents it’s ugliness and beauty in equally engaging doses.
I loved this book. A little polishing of its charming rough edges from an editor would quickly make a very good book into a potentially great book.
I’d recommend this book to anyone with a heart and a soul, this fine story will enrich both further.

Book Review- S.T.R.A.I.G.H.T by Des McAnulty

Des McAnulty has produced  a rare treat with his Novella “Straight”. Scottish authors tend to fall into some pretty distinct categories. Either Irvine Welsh wannabe types or pseudo Brookmyre-ists with none of the wit, or talent of either. Not so in Des’s case.

Des manages to blend some entertaining and genuinely keen observational humour, in the mould  of an early Billy Connelly sketch (full of inventive and insightful knowledge and love of his local people), with some relevant, modern and touching social issues. That he pulls this off without descending into rant or preach mode is to his credit and wouldn’t have happened at the hands of a lesser writer. This skill with “I’ll laugh even though I shouldn’t humour” and too-honest description and understanding of people’s behaviour and motives  from a rookie writer can be seen in the books of John Niven, perhaps my all-time favourite Scottish writer.Des takes human weakness, pride, love, joy, failure and triumph and creates an alternative world that is at once darkly humorous, exciting, frightening, to be pitied and envied and is also utterly believable.

His characters are well defined and allowed to develop, but unhindered by a plodding back-story which  can be too frequently employed by other writers to fill pages with superfluous information.

Rather than spinning and stretching his tale Des has told exactly the story he wanted to with the entertaining concept of reversal of the “norms” of sexuality and not a page to spare. This is a perfect story to have as a novella and a clever decision on McAnulty’s part.
 Where other writers would have been tempted to force too many pages and produce a novel, Des has chosen instead to keep the story pacey, entertaining, and contemporary; page count be damned.
If I had to pick holes (and I am being picky) the book could do with spruce up in formatting (but that’s true of many Indie-published novels my own included before I learned how) and some editing assistance but this takes nothing away from a very funny, clever and engaging story from an author who I’m sure has much more to come.
I would certainly read more of Des’s work (already downloaded his full-length novel) and would recommend Straight to others.

Parallel-The Awakening by Paul A Rice Book Review

This is not a book that I’d normally pick up, being in the genre that it is, but the author seemed a good bloke on twitter so I gave it a bash.

Within 2 chapters, I hated the book. I was confused as to what was happening and felt no real interest in the subject matter, but as I said, I’m in unfamiliar country with this genre and  something kept me reading, (namely the fact that this guy can write)  and boy I’m glad that I did.

Paul Rice brings humour, action, heart, pace and honest to God excitement to the reader with this novel. Paul describes scenes with no nonsense, succinct sentences, giving exactly what you need to paint an image of the scene, setting or character in your mind, and not a lick more.

Paul makes the two main characters in this book, Mike and Ken (never thought I’d read a story with an awesome hero called Kenneth in it, don’t they usually collect stamps or something those Kenneth-types?), real and vulnerable and the confusion they share about their predicament helped push me onwards.
The most visible villain of the piece, Red, is one nasty good ol’ boy, who’d be just at home in the gator-filled swamps of wherever, picking his teeth with the rib of an unidentified animal while gloating about what deep shit you were in. Loved this character. the fight scene with Red and Ken was fantastic and reminded me of the great sort of description you’d find in a Try Denning light sabre duel scene.
My only real beef with this book is that I wanted to know more about the characters, as not much of a backstory was supplied. Having said that, doing so may have affected the perfect pace of the book adversely. I’ll look forward, hopefully to meeting these guys again in later books and finding out a bit more about them.
The ending of the book (which I won’t spoil) was perfect, and as anyone who has read my own book will know is right up my street. Paul executes what could be a let down of an ending masterfully, and the tone is just perfect.
In lesser hands a book of this type in this genre would have lost me very quickly, not so with Paul Rice’s wonderfully book.  Sneaks up and grabs you by the gentleman regions.