Friday, 31 October 2014

Cafe Insomniac by Mark Capell

Quick blurb:

Twenty-five-year-old insomniac Justin Brooks opens an all-night café. But soon after opening, one of his customers is murdered.

The fallout from the murder makes his insomnia worse -- much worse. He completely loses the ability to sleep.

Strange things start to happen in Justin's world, things that are hard to explain.

About Mark Capell:

For my sins, I used to be a television director. And I was lucky enough to win a Royal Television Society Award.

During that time, I met all sorts of weird and wonderful people, including a gangster who offered to kill anybody who upset me. But instead of taking up his offer, I decided to join the exciting digital revolution and take my storytelling skills to the world of fiction.

My first novel, a crime thriller called Run, Run, Run, reached number one on the Amazon UK crime and thriller chart.

My aim as a writer is to tell exciting stories that haven't been told before, and to introduce readers to intriguing characters they haven't met in other books. In that way I want to be an explorer.

My take on the novel:

In a word, muffled.

It had an interesting start. Justin Brooks, an insomniac, very quietly opens a night café and quietly his clientele starts picking up. A patron is quietly murdered around the corner. Justin quietly reacts to this, and to the strange man who seems to be quietly threatening him and his family.

All very quietly, as if seen through fog. Muffled noises, muted emotions. No, not through fog… as though it’s a dream. Some parts are heard in detail, and some parts brushed over, as though inconsequential or as though they didn’t happen at all.

The Edward Hopper work, Nighthawks, was at the forefront of my mind. The whole atmosphere of the painting; the stillness, the quiet, the frozen scene in the heart of a bustling city, the lack of any kind of relationship between the characters… this was perfectly personified in the pages of Capell’s story. It was entrancing. I’ve always loved Nighthawks, and it was like I had jumped right into the scene.

I read on, waiting for the Technicolor to explode. Waiting for the event to happen that would kick the dream world where impossibly strange people turned up and did unexplainable things to the curb. I was looking forward to seeing how Justin would cope with this new world. The real one.

The event did take place, but it was muffled. Justin coped very well. So reasonably. So logically.


The muted emotions continued. I wasn’t right in all my predictions about the dream world, but I was close enough to find the “reveal” not as surprising as I’d imagine it was intended.

I have a few frustrations to air. The muted feel of the story is okay for a while, especially if the pace changes about a third of the way in - but not for an entire book. Capell is verbose. Many conversations are relayed word for word, adding length to an otherwise simple yet compelling story. The description of insomnia was repetitive. The characters were neutral. I didn’t like them or dislike them, I simply didn’t get a handle on them at all. All down to that muffled writing. They were too simple. The most interesting one was the father, but his character at the end is not believable.

However, I also have some high praise.

The muffled writing is absolutely perfect for this character. Justin goes through his days / nights in a daze, because of his tiredness. The style of writing perfectly mimics this feel of being half-in and half-out of a dream world at all times. It captures perfectly what it would be like to be constantly tired. Nighthawks again. A perfect pairing.

And although I wanted him to snap out of it towards the end, when the climax takes place and forces a reality check (plus he’s had some sleep), he doesn’t. I didn’t like this because I wanted more, more, more… something. More realness. And this too is appropriate, because although the man has slept, he’s still… well, you’ll have to read it and find out. I’ve given away far too much as it is.

Ooo and I love the covers. I have seen two, and they are both good.

Not particularly fast-paced, and a little long-winded for me. But you will like this book if you enjoy gentle suspense, gentle psychological thrillers, gentle who-dunnits where you get given all the clues from page one and can enjoy finding out if you were right.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Affinities by Chris Hollis

Affinities by Chris Hollis

Wow! What a book!

Affinities is an unnerving, creepy psychological thriller. There is plenty of guesswork, with many twists and turns.

About Chris Hollis:

At an old wooden desk in a chilly sports hall, a teenage Chris Hollis first realised he wanted to write. The exam paper asked for a short scene about a person being chased. Chris ran over the word count.

Then he ran out of paper. Then he wrote on the back...

Many (enough) years later, he has developed a flavour for fast-paced fiction, and a sense of paranoia that has invited comparison to the likes of James Herbert, Kafka, and his main source of inspiration, H. G. Wells.

Other favourites include John Wyndham and the modern horror of Graham Masterton. Chris is always hard at work on the next thriller, with no shortage of ideas.

About Affinities:

I opened up Affinities to make sure that the file conversion had worked and that I didn’t have a garble of script in front of me, intending to get a proper start on it in the morning. Well, chapter one had me gripped and I found myself at the end of it before reminding myself it was well after midnight and that I had work in the morning. I also wondered whether it was the kind of thing to be reading just before sleep!

Chapter one was unsettling, drawing on the common fear around what happens when I go to sleep? The scratching and scuffling noises which Andrew hears at night were truly frightening, rather than falling into the children’s night-time monsters category. Having not read the blurb, seen the cover or read any more of Hollis’ work, I wondered if I had picked up a horror, happy to return it in the morning.

I’m very pleased that I didn’t. The story unfolded quickly. Andrew Goodwin is a man whose life has come apart at the seams. The reader comes in when he is at his lowest, and strange noises haunt him at night. He realises that he is losing whole days of his life, sleeping through all daylight hours, and only managing to stay awake for a couple of hours every night.

I won’t say anything more about the clever plot, as the less informed a reader is (as I was), the more likely s/he is to enjoy the book. The reveals are well-timed and well-explained. Hollis allows his readers the odd prediction, timed perfectly so that they can pat themselves on the back for being so clever when they turn out to be right.

My only negative comment is that the first section of the book does tend to go on for a bit. I realise now that this is necessary - the blow-by-blow of Andrew’s waking hours is important so that later the reader can piece together his days and nights - but still, it did begin to drag. Alright, this is weird and frightening, something odd is happening to him and he’s afraid; I get it - what next? If that section had carried on for much longer with the questions not being answered, I would have been in great danger of skipping pages.

The quality of Hollis’ writing is excellent. His use of language flows well without feeling forced or repetitive. His depiction of paranoia is beautiful to behold, and very believable. Hollis’ roots in Wyndham and HG Wells are clear. Most of his characters are well rounded, with all their hard lines and soft curves. I haven’t got a good grasp of Isabel yet but I do notice that she will be further teased out in his second book of this series.

Affinities is Hollis’ first book in his Lifecycle Series. The second, Outshine, is due to be released later this year, and deals with some of the characters his readers met in Affinities.

All in all, wonderful work. I very much enjoyed reading the book and am thrilled to have been able to review it.

Big thumbs up, with four and a half stars out of five.

Where you can find Chris Hollis online:

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Diary of Nicholas Oldman by MG Atkinson

H’mmm… where to start…

The Diary of Nicholas Oldman is a fanciful flight into the prehistoric past. It is 272 pages that explore the question: “how would modern man survive alongside dinosaurs?”

About MG Atkinson

MG Atkinson has an eighteen-year-old daughter who, he says, is going on thirty. He is currently employed as a Steward for a cancer care hospice, but writing has recently become a passion and he published his first book, The Diary of Nicholas Oldman, on Kindle in August 2014. His favourite book of all time is Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. He says that he has lost count of the number of times he has read it.

About the Diary of Nicholas Oldman

MG Atkinson has a flair for description and wordiness. He takes ten words where I would use one. This is not a bad thing, in fact I envy authors who can do this. I sit in front of my screen for hours on end, willing my short paragraphs to turn into entire chapters, but it seems I simply don’t write this way.

Atkinson, however, does it well and does it consistently. 272 pages of descriptive language, and I can feel the hot sun of the desert on my parched lips, I can feel the danger lurking just beyond my eyesight in the jungle, and I can feel the buoyancy of the raft beneath me. I take my hat off to him for this. His descriptive scenes were mesmerising and beautiful, clad in elegant language which encouraged me to keep reading.

However, I do have some caution to give. The shape of the book was non-existent. Nothing happened.

Or rather, everything happened.

Constantly and without rest, the reader is bombarded with adventure after adventure, the book becoming a series of anecdotes about survival in a prehistoric landscape burgeoning with danger. And I suppose that is exactly what a diary is. A compilation of anecdotes which come together to give a picture of an individual’s ongoing daily struggles. However, there is a reason why we don’t publish our teenage diaries. Diaries lack shape, are often disjointed, and are thoroughly egocentric. All of which this book is.

I have no solution to the egocentricity. Nicholas Oldman is, quite simply, the only human on the planet. Therefore the book will be centred on himself, as there is no-one else to write about. However, the repetition of the first pronoun begins to give the book a vaguely indulgent air.

I struggled to get a grasp on his character, which seems an odd thing to say after complaining that “it’s all about Nicholas”. However, I wonder if much of our perception of characters comes through the eyes of others, and through their interaction with other characters, and this of course is lacking here. There is no opportunity here to see Nicholas through anyone else’s eyes. Perhaps the addition of some stories from his life “before” would help here.

The book trudged on, and I trudged with Nicholas, him in search of somewhere to live, me in search of some purpose to the whole thing. The same level of alertness and emotional investment was kept throughout, and then suddenly, at the end, an epilogue. There is someone else in the book; there is another storyline! I loved this part, but wondered if bringing it in and out throughout the 272 pages would have added more intrigue. An extra thread to weave into Nicholas’ trudging. The finding of the bones, the classifying, the inspection, the missing of their importance, then, finally, on the day of his birth, the revelation.

I love this description around page 200 when Nicholas discovers his raft, which he had thought to have lost, and is so desperate to get to it.

“I remember pacing the bank up and down like a trammelled wild thing, looking out over the river and at my raft some hundred-odd metes away. My eyes never left the raft, even as I turned to pace back the other way, my body swivelled beneath my head and my eyes stayed firmly fixed on my target. Its outline was sparkling with that hunters gleam that only my frenzied eye could see.”

It becomes clear to the reader that Nicholas is going mad, the days of isolation and his sole focus on survival at all cost taking their toll. However, the beautiful description which unfolds to us is then kinda blown away a few paragraphs later by him telling us that he had gone mad. Summarising in case we had missed it. The spelling out of such a situation dulls its effect for me, and as I reader I personally prefer not to be spoon-fed.

This book is a fantastic debut. Atkinson had an idea, and saw it through. It was a mammoth task, and I cannot imagine the hours of work in penning and honing that has gone into it. It is near perfect in terms of grammar and style, and I know that there will be many fans of descriptive work who will adore this book, and be relieved when they find that there will be more.
You can find out more about MG Atkinson on his webpage here.
You can download The Diary of Nicholas Oldman here.
You can read about it on Goodreads here.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Stranger at Sunset by Eden Baylee

About Eden Baylee

Eden Baylee left a twenty-year banking career to become a full-time writer. Incorporating some of her favorite things such as travel, culture, and a deep curiosity for what turns people on, her brand of writing is sensual, sexual, and literary.

June 30, 2014 saw the release of her first novel, a psychological mystery set in Jamaica called Stranger at Sunset.

About Stranger at Sunset

One word to describe the novel would be lengthy.

I struggled with this aspect - it seemed to drag on and on through so many sections that it became hard work.

However, with my greatest bugbear out of the way, I can now dwell on far more positive aspects. What an entertaining story! We are told that our protagonist is Kate Hampton, who heads off to Jamaica for a holiday. Once there we meet a range of interesting and rather shady characters with different views of the world to bring to the table.

The book is written from multiple perspectives, which is fascinating. With the skill of a juggler the author manages to get inside the head of so many different mindsets. I found it unusual that Kate’s viewpoint seemed to receive as much attention as anyone else’s, but this also made the story intriguing. At some points she almost retreated into the backdrop, and I can see now the author’s purpose for this. Baylee gives each character his or her due in terms of background and motivation, although the reader may have to wait in suspense to piece all the crumbs of clues together.

It reminded me of Poirot, stuck on a train with a murderer (or two or three). Certainly all the elements of a good Agatha Christie are here. Interesting characters. Chance encounters. History. A dead body. A wonderfully lavish and exotic location. But Baylee throws the prescriptive “whodunit” bible out the window and writes to her own tune, which was hugely refreshing and so enjoyable.

First of all, the murder happens in the prologue, just vaguely, through someone else’s eyes (or binoculars, actually). Not too unusual, you may think. But then we go back in time and hear about everyone arriving at the resort, and the murder itself occurs blow by blow before our eyes half way through the book. However, and here’s the twist, the reader can’t actually be too sure who the murderer and victim are. Or even, in Poirot terms, who will play detective? And who has a history with the victim? A lover? A business partner? A family member? The victim is named fairly quickly, but the red herrings for the identity of the murderer continue until the very last part of the book, and the motivations left hanging till the final page.

The roles which Baylee has given her protagonist are numerous, and extremely clever. I have never encountered a main character quite like Kate Hampton. I did not like her, which tainted my opinion of the book (it is difficult to enjoy a book whose main character you dislike), but luckily she is not front and centre all the time. Her greatest gift is her amazing mind. At times she waves away others’ compliments of her stunning memory, even though she’s the one asking about their mother-in-law by name. I found that she is at times strong and confident, at others frustratingly submissive or even foggy, and at the end, when it really sealed my opinion of her, a petulant child. There are fuzzy areas at key points in the book where I couldn’t get a handle on what she was thinking at all, and although I understand it now, I found this difficult to accept in a main character.

Baylee can write. I found the pace and timing of the flow of the story a little off; the clues unusually spaced, the reveals a little mistimed. But there is no denying that she writes well, in terms of structure and grammar. And in a writer I think this is important. I also think it’s important for a writer to have a sense of humour, which Baylee clearly has. I’m not saying that Stranger at Sunset is a comedy, or that it’s full of caricatures. What I am saying is that Baylee writes not only with passion and verve, but also at times with her tongue firmly in her cheek. And this is what I appreciate most about a writer; that they can enjoy and embrace the subtleties and expectations of their genre whilst having a little smile to themselves too.

All in all, this story is a find for Indie readers and for fans of mysteries - especially if you like a little bit of twisting!

Stranger at Sunset is Eden Baylee’s first novel and she is currently writing a second plunge into Kate Hampton’s world. However, if you are desperate to get your hands on more of Baylee’s work, she has published many novellas and short stories. To find out more, visit


Friday, 3 October 2014

Now available in print!

After months of fine tuning, Unworthy is now print ready and available for purchase from my Create Space shop. Click here to be taken to the purchasing page and to find out the cost of shipping to anywhere in the world.