Infinity by Allaina Daniels (Xandrian Series Book 1)

My lovely guest reviewer, Jennifer Lee Clayton (Author of the Chosen Saga series) has reviewed Infinity previously and asked me to read and review it too. She had loved it so much so I had really high hopes for it.

Infinity is about a young lady, Carmen, who has had a tough upbringing. She loves her OCD best friend and business partner, Lissy. Carmen has the ability to talk to animals via telepathy which makes her extremely good at her job as an canine behaviour specialist, although she has no idea where this ability arises from. Lissy runs the business and Carmen does the business! All is well until Carmen comes across a ridiculously attractive guy that she has seen before, in her dreams! Carmen runs for the hills, terrified at this bizarre turn of events but gorgeous Gabriel follows her. Determined to win Carmen’s affections, a battle of wills ensues.

I’ll be honest, I found the first quarter of the book quite hard-going. I just couldn’t get invested in the plot at all and wondered if I’d ever get through the book. However, I stuck with it and I’m really glad I did. Once the momentum of the relationship between Carmen and Gabriel got going, this book was a much easier and enjoyable read. In fact, I couldn’t put it down to the point that I read it way past my bedtime to finish it!

I’m not sure if I found the whole “talks to animals” a bit too Dr Doolittle and just a bit bizarre or if Carmen’s attitude was just a bit too annoying to make her likeable initially, but the more Carmen showed her vulnerabilities, she became a much more endearing character. I found myself championing Gabriel eventually, but not before I wondered why he was bothering. Daniels has written a lovely character in Gabriel and it felt a bit like he was fighting a pointless battle. However, I did come round to the plot eventually and found myself cheering them both on.

Daniels’ writing style is engaging on the whole. As I say, I haven’t really been able to pinpoint why I found the beginning of this book a bit hard work but the narrative is eloquently written, perhaps more so as the book goes on. I preferred Lissy and Gabriel’s characters than Carmen’s. I found her a tad self-absorbed and irritating, but I think that was supposed to be the point, to show how much Carmen had been damaged by her traumatic childhood and the deep distrust she has for anyone other than Lissy and her family. Ultimately, Daniels effectively shows how love can conquer all, even when you try to deny it, and that there are good, honest people in the world, you just have to believe that they are there.

Once Carmen and Gabriel are on the same page, this book flows so much better and gripped me enough to want them to find a happy ever after. I read the last three quarters of the book in two nights. It took me considerably longer to read the first quarter. What I would say is, stick with it. It gets so much better that you will not regret giving this book the benefit of the doubt. It may be a slow burner but by the end of the book it is on fire! I look forward to reading the next instalment!


A Ghost of Magic by J L Clayton

A few months ago, I had a conversation on Twitter with JL Clayton (@JLClaytonBooks) and since then, she has become a lovely friend. The magic of social media! Having read her first two books in the Chosen Saga, A Spark of Magic and A Blaze of Magic, in quick succession, casting aside another sequel from another author that I had been eagerly awaiting, I was really keen to see where she would take Charlie and her band of lust-filled boys on her magical journey. 

I wasn’t disappointed in the least. Clayton has developed Charlie from the obstinate, innocent teenager of book one to a determined, feisty young lady in book three. That’s not to say that Charlie has fully evolved into someone who knows what she wants and goes for it, but she has most certainly made a progression from book one and two, as she becomes more aware of her powers and what she can do with them.

At the end of A Blaze of Magic, Nikko was struck by a spell by the evil Kate and Charlie unsuccessfully tried to revive him, instead making him a ghost who was tethered to Charlie’s magic. In A Ghost of Magic, Nikko is getting used to life as a ghost while Charlie is determined to try and find a solution to his ghostly state. However, Nikko is just one of her worries as Crispin, the Traveller, looms large. Disguised as new boy, Cris, he weaves his way into Charlie’s life in order to gain her powers and toy with her along the way. As he manipulates her friends and manages to quell any suspicions raised about who he really is, Crispin finds himself fighting a burgeoning feeling of affection for Charlie.

Clayton’s real talent is in the way she changes the narrative voice to suit each character so that they could have been written by different authors, they are all so distinctive. In this book, the story is told in turn by Nikko, Charlie and Crispin. Clayton doesn’t try and make Nikko and Charlie appear older than they are. Whilst they are on the cusp of adulthood, their naivety is displayed through the narrative, whereas Crispin is more formal, an adult in every sense of the word.

There is a real sense throughout the book that this book is a build up to something big and although there are climactic episodes in A Ghost of Magic, it still feels like this is an ongoing journey and certainly the ending of the book leaves more questions than answers, which is a good way to leave it when, as I understand it, this will be a four book series. Clayton keeps the reader gripped throughout as Charlie is duped on regular occasions then enlightened to her powers and to those surrounding her.

The men in Charlie’s life play the largest presence as Tru, Jace, Asher and Crispin fight for Charlie’s affections. I have my own opinion on who Charlie should end up with but time will tell! That’s assuming that these suitors really are in love with her and not being drawn to her by magical means. However, I think that this will be addressed in the next book. At least, I hope so!

Ultimately, this book is a rollercoaster journey between the mortal and magical worlds. Clayton navigates Charlie through her confusion over her powers and emotions by juxtaposing Charlie’s ever-changeable thoughts to Crispin stoic determination and arrogance that he reigns supreme. Clayton has answered questions raised by A Blaze of Magic and left plenty of questions to be answered in the next book. I, for one, can’t wait to read it.

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The Black Prince:Part 1 & 2 by PJ Fox

It is only a few months ago since I read, and loved, The Demon of Darkling Reach and The White Queen by PJ Fox but I feel like I have been waiting forever for the final two books in this amazing tetralogy, The Black Prince: Part One and The Black Prince: Part Two. I got a tantalising taster when I read the first seven chapters a month or so ago and it made me all the more desperate to see where Fox would take her two main protagonists, Isla and Tristan. Yet, I quickly realised that although Isla and Tristan are still the main protagonists, in these final two books, Fox gives equal, if not more narrative to other characters who are as worthy of the page space as Isla and Tristan.

The Black Prince Part One and Two follows on from Isla’s marriage, and sacrifice, to Tristan, as battles are ensuing across the lands to try and overthrow the King, led by Maeve, Asher’s mother. When Tristan acknowledges that he is Asher’s father, and Isla adopts Asher as her son, he becomes a pawn in a vicious battle between the warring sides. As Hart becomes an integral part of Tristan’s fighting force, he tries to battle his own demons as he finds love and great success in his own right. However, there are enemies hidden in all manner of places and some closer than they think, and there are plenty of unexpected twists and turns throughout the two books.

What I loved about this tetralogy is that Fox packs in so much information and so many characters, who could easily be main protagonists in their own right, yet I was never lost as to what was happening. Fox doesn’t skimp on the descriptive parts of the narrative, but neither does she overload you; the ratio for action and description is perfect. As I’ve mentioned in past reviews of Fox’s works, her talent for creating flawed, yet brilliant characters is amazing. She perfectly balances her main characters and surrounds them with a few extreme characters, such as Rowena and Rudolph to create a exquisite narrative that gives so much, yet doesn’t confuse the reader. The narrative is clever enough to keep the reader guessing as to who is friend or foe, but is clear enough to at least arouse suspicion in various parties.

As a reader, you can easily place yourself in the environment that Fox outlines. Her ability to paint a picture with words is truly a wonder to behold, whether it be the grandeur of Caer Addanc or the gross camping site of the warring troops. Fox uses her historical knowledge to give her descriptions authenticity and to give the reader a true indication of the medieval landscape.

However, it is her characters that make these books as fantastic as they are. Despite Tristan’s dark nature and demonic rituals, he is a very alluring character and, as a woman who loves the idea of a chivalrous man looking after the woman he loves fiercely, I absolutely fell for Tristan. His all-powerful persona allows him stand tall above and beyond the other characters in the book and a reader could forgive him anything. (The claws would be an issue though, as I’ve mentioned before! No man should have nails longer than mine!) I loved Isla too, and she is such a formidable character. She is a strong woman who has embraced her life with Tristan and as a mother to Asher and is not often afraid to speak her mind in defence of those that she loves. Her flaws are those that most people can relate to; she worries that she isn’t enough for Tristan, and that she is somehow to blame for her family’s nasty traits. However, the way Fox brings Tristan and Isla together and entwines them to become one entity leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind that these two characters were made for each other. The reader can also see that her concerns about her family are completely unfounded and they are just nasty pieces of work. The fact that Isla feels these things, however, makes her a particularly agreeable character who the reader champions throughout the novels.

Hart comes into his own in these two books. Whilst I loved his character in the first two books, it is in the two The Black Prince books where Hart is given a leading role. He is another perfect example of a character that is quite gross in many ways, yet the reader is left more than willing to ignore his baser features to appreciate what a wonderful character he is. Partnering him with Callas initially, they are a formidable duo who work together with a fantastic synchronicity. We are then introduced to Arvid, a tribesman with a bluntness that insults and amuses in equal measure, who becomes Hart’s right hand man. He is a loyal friend and provides much amusement to those who he isn’t insulting. Hart’s relationship with Lissa is beautifully depicted by Fox as both characters have their own issues but ultimately are drawn together and like Isla and Tristan, they rely totally on what their respective partners can give them, despite being able to hold their own in whatever situation presents itself to them.

Asher is also more prominent in these books, in fact, plays a very important part in the plot of these two novels.  Again, he is wonderfully developed by Fox, in terms of his expectations, dreams and the fact that he is only still a young boy who idolises those close to him but still can’t help but wonder how he has found himself in the position he is in. He emulates Tristan to some extent but his youthful worries and uncertainties give Asher more depth as a character and I found myself mentally shouting at him to watch his back and hoping he didn’t get swayed by his insecurities.

I could quite easily discuss each character at length and tell you how well written they are but I fear I would give far too much away and I would like to strongly encourage people to read these books rather than feel they didn’t need to because I’ve divulged too much here. However, I must mention Rowena, Isla’s sister, who has gone from being a vain little princess character in book one to a downright evil, vindictive, witch in these two books. She has been so well developed over the course of the four books that she never ceases to surprise with some of her actions and responses. Ultimately she keeps testing Isla’s loyalty to her to the limit and while Isla never seems to quite sever ties with her, I often wished she would! Rowena’s character is multi-functional in these books and her purpose is ever changing, keeping the reader amused and appalled in equal measure.

I can honestly say that this has been one of the best series of books I have ever read. In a very short period of time, PJ Fox has become one of my favourite writers and I fully intend to read her back catalogue, as well as her regular updates to her Wattpad book, Book of Shadows. I have been telling everyone who listens that they should read this series and will continue to do so, as I think that this series captures the essence of the traditional classic novel, but bypasses the restrictions of what was deemed appropriate to give the novels a modernity that enhances the classic style. I have nothing at all bad to say about this series other than to say that I’m gutted that the experience is over. In the Afterword to The Black Prince:Part 2, Fox poses some questions about what happens next and she says she is leaving it for the reader to decide. That’s not to say that Fox doesn’t tie the story off well. She does, but there is definitely scope for more. I would be the first to read any follow up to Isla and Tristan’s story and given their predilections, I bet a whole host of stories could be written based on them. Also, to anyone in the film industry, these books would make an epic film. It would never be as good as the books, but then again, they never are!

Cursed by Fire & Kissed by Fire (Books 1 & 2 in the Blood and Magic Series) by Danielle Annett

I recently signed up to the Blog Tour for the release of Kissed by Fire by Danielle Annett. However, I needed to read Cursed by Fire first. It was my intention to read each book and review them separately, but I was so intrigued by the first book, I had to read Kissed by Fire (a good sign for any reviewer) to see where Annett was going to take the tale, hence, this is a dual book review!

In Cursed by Fire, the reader is introduced to Aria Naveed, a mercenary and psyker – meaning she has pyrokinetic powers, bursting into flame, often at will, but sometimes it is out of her control, particularly when she is stressed. The opening to the book is quite a brutal one as Aria and her boss, Mike, find the body of a little boy, Daniel,  who they have been employed to find, murdered seemingly by a vampire. However, as it transpires that the Daniel was a shifter, someone who can transform into an animal, this act is seen as a potential spark to a war between the vampires and the shifters. In order to avoid a battle between the two groups, Aria is hired by the shifters to find out who killed Daniel. Helped by her best friend and shifter, James, Aria investigates Daniel’s murder, uncovering a plot to incite the war, but she is determined to find out who killed the little boy. All the while, Aria is being watched by a handsome stranger, who despite her resistance to him, feels an attraction towards him. However, Inarus is not who he seems and Aria is torn between her attraction for him and her innate defensive response.

Cursed by Fire gives the reader an idea of the hierarchy in this place where paranormals and humans live side by side, not necessarily harmoniously. The characters are intriguing, and the plot has a feel of Veronica Roth’s Divergent about it. Similarly, there are factions, in this case, shifters vs vampires vs humans/Psykers, who have lived alongside each other out of a desire to keep the peace but there are members among each group who wish to take control. Like many first books in a series, this book lays the groundwork for future books, but has plenty of action to draw the reader in.

Kissed by Fire flows a little better than Cursed by Fire, most likely because there are a lot of characters in the first book to get accustomed to and a societal dynamic to get a grasp of. Cursed by Fire ends with a 3rd person narrative in consideration of Declan Valkenaar, the Alpha of the Pacific Northwest Pack of shifters. The reader is given a hint that perhaps Declan feels more for Aria than has been previously displayed. In Kissed by Fire, we find out just how true this is. As Aria takes over at Sanborn Place, the mercenary firm she works for, she is keen to get back to work and takes a job at a farm where a being has been attacking the farmer’s animals. The farmer is convinced it is a creature only know as a myth, but when it turns out that there may be some truth to the myth, Declan’s hand is forced into completing an act that seals Aria’s fate. As Aria comes to terms with this turn of events, along with her mixed feelings for Inarus and the still-unsolved murder of Daniel, the reader is taken on a fast-paced journey.

I like to be able to feel a sense of realism in the books I read, something to relate to, and while this book is jam-packed with vampires, shifters and psykers, the battle of wills between each powering force is something that can be related to the politics of today’s society. The sense of tenuous compromises and living on a knife edge are all valid scenarios that we hear in the news each day. Aria is a great main protagonist, flawed but strong. She reminded me a little of Stephanie Plum, heroine of Janet Evanovich’s “Numbers” novels. These books aren’t remotely comedic like Evanovich’s novels but Aria always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and usually ends up coming off worst.  That said, she is strong, feisty and really likeable.

Annett has written two really good books and I have no doubt that there will be more to come from this series. They are not necessarily books I would have picked up to read, but they were entertaining nonetheless, and I think any issues I have with it are down to personal choice. I’m not completely sure I understand the Declan connection, although perhaps this will be explored in future books. I was a little disappointed that James is not the love interest, but I’m sure Annett has a plan for her characters and I am invested enough to want to know what happens next. Cursed by Fire and Kissed by Fire are action-packed, mystery-filled novels and will appeal to readers who like an adventure.


The White Queen by PJ Fox

Following my recent review of The Demon of Darkling Reach, I’d been looking forward to when I’d get chance to read the second book in The Black Prince trilogy, The White Queen. I wasn’t remotely disappointed, although perhaps a little surprised at what I found when I began the first chapter.

The narrative doesn’t start where I would have expected it to, i.e with Isla and Tristan as their relationship develops. Indeed, it was several chapters later where we would rejoin the couple. Instead, the reader learns how the Tristan Mountbatten became The Demon of Darkling Reach in the first place. We are introduced to the original Tristan Mountbatten, Duke and necromancer, and the circumstances surrounding his reasons for summoning a demon in the first place. We are also given the demon’s point of view before, during and after he inhabits Tristan’s body, becoming the Tristan we know and love from book one. This tactic, ironically, humanises the demon and the reader cannot help but sympathise with the demon and his plight.

Fox illuminates how the demon made a split-second decision to inhabit the original Tristan’s body at that moment and had to figure things out for himself with no real guidance from anyone else. Juxtaposed with Isla’s own struggle to comprehend the enormity of the decision she has made to marry a demon and the changes she will be required to make, the reader feels a greater affinity with Tristan as he guides Isla as best he can and shows her how he does love her in the only way he can.

As with book one, the narrative is beautifully written, intricate in the descriptions of locations, emotions and educating the reader about historical traditions and processes. As with The Demon of Darkling Reach, the issues transcend not only the space in time from when the demon inhabits Tristan to the time he meets Isla, but also to the present day. Religion, war and prejudice play a massive part in current affairs, as does love and jealousy, and Fox has an amazing skill to make these historically based narratives resonate with the same issues from today’s society.

This book reads a little slower than book one but it is no less enjoyable for it. While book one puts the situation in front of the reader, this book explores those dynamics in greater detail. If The Demon of Darkling Reach raises many questions, The White Queen provides plenty of answers, them raises a few more! However, like The Demon of Darkling Reach, The White Queen reads like a modern gothic novel, much smarter than the gothic novels that pre-date it.

I was eager to get to the part where Tristan and Isla meet again at Caer Addanc, willing Isla’s journey to pick up speed whilst simultaneously taking in all the information provided by Fox that builds up the characters further. In fact, while frustrating a little at times, Fox cleverly builds up the tension by showing Tristan’s own struggles then expanding Isla’s journey to Darkling Reach, allowing Isla to expose her fears to the reader and  exacerbating the anticipation of their first meeting on Tristan’s territory.

I love Tristan. I’m not sure that I would be willing to make the sacrifices that Isla makes but there is something very attractive and appealing about the enigmatic demon. Whether it is his power, his self-control or the way he treats Isla with such respect and gentility, I don’t know, but I want them to have a happy ending together, in whatever way they can. Throughout the narrative of these first two books, Fox leaves the reader in no doubt that there are strong feelings between Isla and Tristan and that they connect in a way no other couple, certainly in these books, seem to be able to do.

I have no idea how Fox intends to end Tristan and Isla’s story and these novels often take a route that is completely unexpected, so I have no doubt that no-one could predict at this stage how Fox will close off these characters. However, this trilogy is one of the most interesting series I’ve read in a long while and I am eagerly awaiting the next instalment. Watch this space!

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The Demon of Darkling Reach by PJ Fox

Recently, I started following PJ Fox on WordPress after I commented on a post she wrote about 50 Shades of Grey. I decided to download The Demon of Darkling Reach because Fox is such an eloquent writer in her blog posts and I was curious to read her novels. To be honest, books containing  demons, vampires or indeed, any other supernatural beings are not usually to my tastes, but I was surprised at how I fell in love with this book so quickly.

The Demon of Darkling Reach is about a young woman called Isla, a strong, pragmatic Earl’s daughter, who steps in to save her younger sister Rowena from a marriage of convenience, so that Rowena will be free to marry her childhood sweetheart, Rudolph. She reluctantly puts herself forward to marry the dark and mysterious Duke Tristan Mountbatten, who has been betrothed to Rowena to save the Earl’s manor from destitution. Tristan, however, is not quite like any other man Isla has ever been in contact with, especially with rumours circulating that he may have murdered his two previous wives, amongst others. Initially frightened of him but determined to save her sister from a life of unhappiness, she finds herself more and more drawn to the enigmatic Duke despite having certain fears confirmed and finding out that Tristan is far from an ideal future husband.

Fox has written a fascinating, intelligent narrative. While reminiscent of classic gothic novels, Fox applies a modern twist. There is not quite as much descriptive narrative as you may find in the classics, but there is enough to emulate the essence of these novels, with some more modern attributes, such as swearing and much more overt sexual scenes than you would find in, say, Wuthering Heights or Northanger Abbey. Fox challenges the pre-conceived ideas of the improprieties of society, whether it be through religious or political beliefs. She even challenges the influence of outside sources, much like today’s media influence on society, in the shape of the importance of a book on relationships that Rowena swears by and quotes often, called The Chivalrous Heart.

The characterisation in this novel is nothing short of brilliant. Isla is a strong and likeable main protagonist. She desires love with substance, although she is a realist when she considers that this kind of love is a rarity and most marriages are borne out of convenience or financial gain for the groom or bride’s father. She has no interest in the false image of love that her fickle sister, Rowena, desires. Rudolph is depicted as suitably ridiculous, yet a seemingly perfect match for Rowena. Tristan is horrifying and alluring at the same time. In fact, at times it is easy to forget that Tristan is a demon. If it wasn’t for the fact that he has “claws”, I’d find him somewhat attractive myself! Isla’s mysterious witch friend, Cariad, whilst being an enigma herself, provides the reader with a vehicle to gain answers to questions about Tristan in her own mystically cryptic way. 

The reader is also provided with an education by Fox on mediaeval practices, as well as highlighting that the same personal issues transcend the ages. To love and be loved is an innate human desire. Money talks. Knowledge is power. Religion and politics has an impact on all of society whether it is accepted or rejected. I also had to look up a number of words that Fox uses in the dictionary too whilst I was reading this. Whilst this may have irritated some readers, I was fascinated to learn new words that are not used regularly now but would most likely have been common-place in mediaeval times. 

The Demon of Darkling Reach is a wonderfully intellectual and fascinating novel, not only because of the educational elements but for the intricate plot and engaging characters. I absolutely loved this book and if it wasn’t for the fact that September is a blog-tour-crazy month, I’d be reading the sequel, The White Queen, immediately. As it is, it will have to sit in my Kindle library, constantly tempting me to abandon all the other books I need to read and encouraging me to once again be ensconced in Isla and Tristan’s unconventional, yet strangely beautiful relationship. This is one of the best books I’ve read this year and I am really looking forward to the first space in my blog tour diary to read the next instalment. 

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Critical Failures 2: Fail Harder by Robert Bevan

When I read Critical Failures Book One by Robert Bevan a few weeks ago, I laughed from start to finish. Of course, I didn’t really have a clue about the world of role-play games but, to be honest, it didn’t really matter. When you read any book, you are transported to a world that is often unfamiliar and as long as you can enjoy the plot and you find some kind of likeability factor with the characters, as I did with Critical Failures Book One, you are happy to figure it out along the way.

Critical Failures: Fail Harder starts where the other book left off.  Toilet humour is ever-present and the grossest character, Cooper the half-orc, is strangely the most endearing. Tim, Dave, Julian and Cooper have found an inn to get drunk in, an ideal location for these men-children to commence phase two of their adventures. Of course, they are joined by Chaz and Katherine, Tim’s sister, who found themselves unceremoniously transported to this fantasy game land.  I like Katherine a lot. She’s strong, feisty and puts the boys in their place. It is her determination to be independent that sets the wheels in motion for the plot, as the boys attempt to rescue her from a supposedly undesirable character. As she is the only female character who gets any proper action, it’s no wonder I’m drawn to her. It would be nice to see Katherine with a female buddy amongst this male-dominated group. Two feisty women are so much better than one!

There are lots of new characters to enjoy in this book. The boys are directed to an inn in a rough part of town called “The Whore’s Head” where a collection of other players who have been banished by Mordred, the Cavern Master, reside. As our group of friends start to understand what they need to do to stay alive and try to find a way home, they make a number of new acquaintances who add another layer of comedy and mirth to the proceedings. I loved the idea of the Four Horsemen being feared by all the residents of The Whore’s Head because they are teenage players who have found themselves in a place where they can wreak havoc without retribution and have easy access to alcohol. Now they have all transferred to their role play characters, it is only their reckless manner and inability to think things through that gives their ages away.

The boys experience a number of hairy scenarios which could easily be the end of them and it seems that they manage to get by in spite of themselves. Again, this adds to the comedy and Bevan generates a number of cliffhanger moments where the characters survive by pure luck. They are their own worst enemies! Yet as a reader, you want them to continue on. At the very least, you want them to be able to return home, but not before they have had a few more adventures.

After reading these two books, and Bevan’s blog (also hilarious, by the way), it seems that he has a great talent for satire. He is able to add an intelligence to the activities of a mainly moronic bunch of characters. The combination of vulgarity, idiocy, yet an uncanny ability to find their way out of life-threatening scenarios, whether by luck or an actual plan, works like a charm to entertain the reader. The names that he gives to things in the fantasy realm add to the already amusing narrative.

Bevan has generated a fantastical world which is intermingled with things that readers can easily recognise, which is perfect for those like me who are new to the concept of Dungeons and Dragons-style role-play. Trials and tribulations are mixed up with inept characters who are insanely funny and although, of course, the plot is key to the flow of the narrative, for me, it is the dynamics between the characters that makes these books so enjoyable and as an advocate of the importance of good characterisation, I applaud Bevan on his ability to generate flawed, yet endearing and hilariously funny characters whose relationships with each other provide continuous amusement with every line of dialogue. I thoroughly enjoyed book two and thanks to the cliffhanger at the end, I can’t wait to read the next one.



Critical Failures (Caverns and Creatures Book One) by Robert Bevan

I’ve followed Robert Bevan on Facebook and Twitter for a little while now and while fantasy novels have not necessarily been my first choice of genre to read, I’ve read the comments made by others about the Critical Failures series and was intrigued enough to give them a try. Also, Bevan’s own posts are often really witty and I figured that if his books were anything like his Facebook posts, I’d really enjoy them, so I downloaded them.

In the opening chapter of Critical Failures, we are introduced to Tim and his friends as they wait for a newcomer to their Caverns and Creatures fantasy role play game. Mordred the Cavern Master enters and is subjected to a little teasing from Tim’s friends, in particular, Cooper, who seems to be the group comedian. Dave, Tim and Cooper have played Cavern’s and Creatures for some time, but the fourth friend Julian is also a newcomer to the game, and initially Mordred enjoys teaching Julian the rules of the game, as the others wind each other up. However, as Cooper continues to poke fun at the eccentric Mordred, the friends soon find themselves in trouble. With the roll of some mysterious magical dice, Mordred sends the friends to the fantasy land that is the basis of the Cavern’s and Creature’s game.

My first impression of this book was that it was unbelievably funny. I haven’t laughed at a book so much in a while. The banter between the four friends is hilarious. If you have a gentle disposition when it comes to swearing and bodily functions, this may not be the book for you, but if you can appreciate the amusement that these things can bring to an amusing storyline, then you will love this book. None of the grossness is without purpose and the swearing is typical of your average man-child and adds to the humour of the novel, albeit toilet humour. However, in this book, with these characters, it works like a charm to keep the laughs coming throughout.

Tim, Cooper, Dave and Julian (Cooper, in particular) are childish but are faced with varying degrees of responsibility throughout the book. They cajole each other constantly, but will fight to the death for their friends, whilst determined to make Mordred pay for sending them to this strange land, just as soon as he sends them back! None of the characters fall into a stereotype and no character is one-dimensional. For example, whilst they are playing a role play game that tends to be considered geeky, they don’t really come across that way. Even Mordred isn’t really geek-like, more eccentric. They all have their chance to play the hero and they all create chaos at different points in the novel, which is testament to the ability of the writer.

Bevan cleverly links the role play imaginary actions in the first two chapters, before Mordred has sent them to the fantasy world of Algor, with the “reality” of the subsequent chapters so that these role-of-a-dice decisions are reflected when they arrive in Algor. After Cooper has chopped the head off one of the city guards, he becomes Public Enemy Number One in this fantasy land which leads them to have to figure things out quickly to escape the grasp of Captain Righteous Justificus Blademaster, (love this name!!) Captain of the Guard of Algor, and his soldiers, who wants justice for his fallen comrade. I imagined him to be a bit like Agamemnon in the Mr Peabody and Sherman movie. (My three-year old’s favourite film!)

As the boys become the characters they have invented in the beginning of the book with the intention of playing a game, not only are they getting used to new surroundings but new physical and mental abilities and flaws, as they change size and shape and gain magical powers and abilities. From the first two chapters, the reader becomes au fait with the rules of the game and the different types of characters available, so we are then able to understand potential challenges that they may face. Also, the fact that Julian is also new to the game, the reader is learning with him. I’m not familiar with role play games such as Cavern’s and Creatures I didn’t find that this was a hindrance at all. Mordred is ever-present as he uses the severed head of the guard as a conduit to communicate to the friends, giving them further opportunities to provoke and mock him, whilst giving them more information on what has happened and why. He is controlling their destinies from the real world and has the power to keep them alive or kill them.

The introduction of Tim’s sister, Katherine, and her boyfriend, Chaz, and their subsequent arrival in Algor, after they are also duped by Mordred, allows for further different types of characters and characteristics to be introduced. Bevan provides the reader with so much scope for future novels just by the number of different types of magical beings that he showcases in this first novel and you do get the impression that this is the tip of the Cavern’s and Creature’s iceberg. As vile as Tim, Cooper, Dave and Julian can be, you automatically find yourself cheering them on, wanting them to get their own back on the bizarre Cavern master,  Mordred.

There are also various characters that live in Algor too, who are also very comical. Although we are only introduced to a handful in this book, it allows Bevan to show the disparity between the two worlds. From the modern world of fast food and mobile phones to the mediaeval world of castles, dungeons and horse-carts, we are reminded of what a challenge it must be, being transported from one world to the other.

It didn’t take me long to read this book, probably because it is just hilarious from start to finish. Not only is it funny, but the characters are really intriguing, particularly as most of the characters are two different people to some extent. Whilst the personalities remain from the real world, they have to adapt to their different abilities and Bevan doesn’t falter in his representation of these dual images at all. Of course it is a fantasy novel but the believability of the characters is never in question. I’m really looking forward to the other Critical Failure novels and if I’m ever feeling fed up, I know which book to pick up to cheer me up.



The Branches of Time (Volume One) – Luca Rossi

Science Fiction/Fantasy novels are really not a favourite of mine. While I was studying, I dragged my way through Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick and The Time Machine by H.G Wells, both sci-fi classics. However, I didn’t connect with them at all. I need a strong sense of a possible reality in the books that I enjoy, and magic/fantasy directly contradicts this. That being said, I did find myself strangely gripped by Luca Rossi’s The Branches of Time. I’d felt obligated to read it after receiving a lovely email from Mr Rossi and, if I’m honest, I started to read it with a bit of trepidation but I was drawn in very quickly and I actually quite enjoyed it.

The Branches of Time is about a secluded island called Turios which is protected by magical forces whose inhabitants are struck down during the wedding ceremony of Bashinoir and Lil by a shower of stone shards. Only an injured Bashinoir, Lil and the priestess, Miril, survive and the bodies of the slain inexplicably disappear from the island. As Bashinoir recovers from his injuries, Miril asks Lil to forsake her marriage in order to become a priestess to assist her in protecting Turios. Lil reluctantly agrees and as she learns the rituals and magic required for her new role, she grows further and further apart from Bashinoir who, thanks to a mysterious shadow that follows him as he treks round the island’s coast, finds himself grow increasingly more depressed and angry that Miril has taken his wife from him.

Unbeknownst to Bashinoir, the shadow is actually an astral projection of an apprentice wizard from the island of Isk. Bashinoir’s ancestors had fled from Isk to Turios many years earlier. Ilis is working for King Beanor, a revolting masochistic sex maniac who has more wives than he can keep track of. Beanor, like his ancestors before him, has tried to penetrate the force field that protects Turios. Originally Ilis works for the wizard, Aldin, who meets a sticky end after trying to escape to the island he thinks he has defeated with his rock shards but his ship runs into the still-intact island’s defences. Now he works for Obolil, a former wizard for Beanor, who has been tortured for years after he failed to penetrate the island, but who had been reinstated after Beanor’s treacherous advisor, Truil suggests it.

The action is rarely static in this novel with most characters throughout the novel betraying their friends, loved ones and employers. In fact, the only character who remains true throughout is the awful King Beanor! I think I was able to enjoy this book because, while there is undoubtedly a fantasy base to it, the portrayal of relationships and the subsequent betrayals is not unrealistic at all. Neither is the idea of disgruntled inhabitants fleeing their homeland to make a home elsewhere then being attacked repeatedly for doing so. Rossi has captured potential real life scenarios and given them a fantastical touch.

The narrative is a bit confusing at times. There are occasional flashbacks where I felt more baffled than informed. The time travel elements went a bit over my head too but I guess that would be because of my relative inexperience at reading this genre of novel. However, Rossi writes beautifully and I really was taken in by the characters and the relationships. The relationship between Miril, the lonely but powerful priestess, and the naïve, impressionable Lil is exquisitely depicted, as is the sense of ennui that Bashinoir feels when he wanders the island instead of tending to the island’s livestock while Miril trains Lil in her priestess duties.

Sexual activity is a recurring feature in this book and whilst some of the sex scenes gives you an idea of the debauched personality of Beanor, I’m not sure that every sex scene was necessary to move the plot on. I felt that the chapter where Bashinoir was imagining an encounter with Lil would have been more powerful if there was more evidence of Bashinoir’s love for Lil rather than his sexual attraction to her. Up to this point, I had felt some sympathy at what he had been expected to accept as Lil’s duty and a necessity to their survival but this scene changed my mind and I just felt that this episode gave the impression that Bashinoir was not all that different to Beanor in his thirst for sex, and not really concerned about losing Lil as a loving wife.

The action in the final chapters occurs very quickly and I had to read a couple of times to work out exactly what had happened. However, I have to say, I am quite eager to find out what happens in Volume 2 as this novel ends right in the middle of an action scene with lots of loose ends. I have found myself (somewhat surprisingly) invested in this novel and with the characters. I want to know what happens next! I never expected to enjoy this novel as much as I did and while there have been elements of The Branches of Time that I didn’t like, overall it was a really good read. The narrative is cleverly composed and there is a real depth to the characters as the reader is wondering who to trust and who is double-crossing who. For a real sci-fi/fantasy fan, I am sure that this novel would be extremely well received. Luca Rossi has written a great book and I look forward to reading the next installment.

What Happened to Marilyn by Alexander Rigby

Those that know me well will know that I have had a fascination with the life and mysterious death of Marilyn Monroe for as long as I can remember. I have read countless biographies and two rather large pictures of the Blonde Bombshell adorn my living room walls. So when I saw the title of Alexander Rigby’s latest novel, I wanted to read it. I’ll admit that futuristic novels don’t normally appeal to me but the Marilyn link sold it to me. What would Marilyn Monroe be like in 2062? How would she react to all the technology that has been introduced since 1962 and what would she make of all the controversy surrounding her death? Of course, we could never really know the answer to these questions, but I loved the idea of someone writing a piece of fiction considering them.

Jeremiah Gold, a scientific genius in 2062, builds a time machine in the form of a flying car (a floca) with the intention of taking his mum, Avery, to the future to a time when she would be able to find a cure for her brain tumour. When Avery dies before he finishes the time machine, he interprets her curious final words to mean that he should return to 1962 and rescue Marilyn Monroe from her impending death and bring her to 2062. So he does.

When Jeremiah goes back to 1962, he uses the many biographies he has in his possession to work out where he can “bump into” Marilyn in the days leading up to August 4th 1962 to gain her trust. I was a little disappointed that this section of the book was very dealt with quite quickly and I often felt like I was reading a vague reporting of the facts with a few choice meetings between Marilyn and Jeremiah stuck in between but I think that if I hadn’t read so much about Marilyn Monroe, I may not have noticed this. In the overall scheme of the novel, this section of the book merely facilitates Marilyn’s journey to 2062 so there is no requirement to go into any more detail than Rigby does, but I think it may have been interesting to explore the Kennedy’s role a bit and to give an insight to what actually happened to Marilyn that night, even in a fictional sense. Indulgence on my part, perhaps…

Once Jeremiah transports Marilyn to 2062, she doesn’t seem as shocked as I might have been if I’d found myself 100 years in the future and she seems to adapt pretty easily on the whole, which seems a bit strange. I’ll admit, by this point, I was thinking that perhaps I had expected too much from this novel and was wondering if I was going to enjoy the book as a whole. However, I stuck with it and I’m extremely glad I did!

Over the following chapters, Rigby develops the various relationships between the characters and Marilyn isn’t always the centre of attention, allowing the other characters to blossom; relationships develop and the pasts of the various characters are scrutinised, with a few revelations along the way. Marilyn is effectively left with a decision to make on how she wants to live her life going forward, and who with.

The last third of the novel is where all the things that perhaps I felt weren’t quite right earlier in the book fell into place. Just when you expect that the narrative will take you in one direction, Rigby throws in a few curveballs to make Marilyn’s journey in particular brilliantly concluded. All the little nuances from the rest of the novel are intricately woven together and it all makes absolute sense. Anything that may have seemed minor previously is tied up at the end and is very cleverly pieced together.

What Happened to Marilyn is a beautifully written, clever narrative and whilst I had my reservations at first, by the time I reached the end I thought it was a fitting fictional tribute to the legend that was Marilyn Monroe. Rigby allows her (albeit in a fictional sense) to choose her own destiny. As someone who has read endless books on Marilyn Monroe’s life and death and has developed my own theories of what really happened that night on 4th August 1962, it’s nice that at least in fiction, Marilyn Monroe has regained some control. Rigby doesn’t allow his novel to get bogged down in facts and conspiracy theories; instead it’s just a lovely story about a Hollywood legend who finds herself 100 years in the future and I would highly recommend that you give it a read.