Book Review: ‘Capturing Joy’ by Jackie Oliver

‘Capturing Joy’ is a suspenseful zombie apocalypse romance with plenty of action and danger to keep the storyline going, and some lovely macabre scenes and imagery to balance the romance. 

The characters are interesting and varied, and the author does a good job of keeping the reader guessing about who really can be trusted right up to the end of the book. This, and the fact that very few of the characters are completely likeable, makes the story mysterious and engaging as the reader tries to distinguish truth from deception as the story twists and turns. 

While the central conflicts are resolved by the end of the book, there is still some intrigue remaining, serving to tantalise readers with the hope of another book to follow. 

This is an enjoyable read that will appeal to readers of mystery and action novels as well as contemporary romance readers. 

Book Review: ‘Miss Mabel’s School For Girls’ by Katie Cross

It is a rare thing to find a series of books for Young Adult readers  that ticks all your favourite boxes: mystery and magic underscored with macabre and gothic elements, strong female characters, quirky twists, and themes and ideas that are universally compelling and interesting for teen and adult readers alike.

Just as it exists in the world-famous Harry Potter series, it exists in The Network Series by Katie Cross. This first book in The Network Series delivers a well-paced, expertly constructed story that ticks all of those boxes and more. 

Make no mistake, though: This is no mere imitation. ‘Miss Mabel’s School For Girls’ is original and unique, and the story is thoroughly engaging. The book ends with sufficient resolution to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion while dangling enough magical carrots to leave the reader wanting to just keep reading. 

The writing is excellent, creating an environment and atmosphere that is vivid and almost tangible, and propelling the reader into a story full of mystery, suspense and foreboding. 

Readers of all ages will find this book hard to put down, and should expect to be left wanting more. Thankfully, there is an entire nine book series, and another fantasy series featuring dragons by the same author, to look forward to. 

Author Spotlight: Ted Halstead

Ted Halstead is the author of The Russian Agents thriller series. His latest release is the third book in the series, titled The End of America’s War in Afghanistan.  

He served twenty-five years in the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer, most of it overseas, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service after his second tour at US Embassy Riyadh. His tours included four years at US Embassy Seoul, and two years at the East Asia Pacific Bureau in DC. He is a National War College graduate, and served for three years at a regional US military headquarters.

While there is continuity of some characters through the series, each of the books is a standalone novel. it is not necessary to read any one book before reading the others. The books are all set in different countries at different times, and each book’s story ends with a satisfying resolution.

What inspired you to write?  

Throughout my career in the US Foreign Service, I had experiences that I shared with my fellow officers. From my very first tour, I was told I should write a book about them.  Security classification and privacy concerns have made writing a nonfiction account impossible. However, I have worked many of those experiences into my novels.

What’s your favourite thing that you have written?  

That’s a very hard question. I will always have a special place in my heart for my first book, which took me almost seven years to write. I poured a lot of myself into The Second Korean War, drawing on the four years I served at the US Embassy in Seoul. That was also true for my second book, The Saudi-Iranian War. I drew on two tours at US Embassy Riyadh for that book, spaced twenty years apart. My third book, The End of America’s War in Afghanistan, has some of my favorite supporting characters. Sadly, many don’t survive.  If I must choose one, I have to say The Second Korean War.

What’s your favourite thing that someone else has written?  

Wasp, by Eric Frank Russell. I read it when I was starting high school, and it made a great impression on me. Published in 1957, it was incredibly far ahead of its time. I genuinely envy anyone who hasn’t read it yet!What are you working on writing now?  The End of Russia’s War in Ukraine. Check out my blog, accessible through my Amazon Author Page, for the first couple of pages.

Do you have a favourite food or drink that helps you write?  

Coffee, of course!

Who designs your book covers?  

Ivan Zanchetta, for all three of my books. Just Google his name to find his site. Highly recommended!

What’s your favourite kind of music?  

At the moment, 1970s R&B. Check out the soundtrack for the movie Shaft and see if you agree with me that Isaac Hayes really did deserve his Grammy. Especially for the block of songs following Cafe Regio’s. Or try the song Natural Man by Lou Rawls, and see if you’re as amazed as I am that it came out in 1971.

What’s the best vacation you’ve had?  

Hawaii, during my tour in Seoul. After the pollution of early 1990s Seoul, it was such a pleasure to breathe clean air!

What is your pet hate? Have you ever built it into a character or used it in your writing?  

Bureaucracy. I hated it all 25 years I was part of one of the largest on Earth, and did my best to make it bearable for every member of the public we served. You will see this in all my books in many ways.

What movie can you watch over and over again?  

The Incredibles. First, it’s one of those rare movies I can safely enjoy watching with my granddaughter. Plus, there are so many sly references to old Bond and superhero movies it takes repeated viewings to find them all!

What would you like people to know about being an Indie author?  

I started self-publishing on many sites, including Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Google Books, Apple etc. But I ended up dropping the others because I decided to try making my first book available through Kindle Unlimited, which required me to do Amazon only. I was honestly shocked by how many people read both that book and the others since through KU – literally millions of pages! That actually means more to me than book sales. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s bought a book and either never read it, or just read a few pages before losing interest. As someone who puts a lot of himself into his books, it’s very gratifying to see that people are really reading them!

Thanks for being here and sharing with us today, Tom! 

Thanks for having me!

Ted’s books are all available in Kindle, paperback and audiobook formats.  They are also available through Kindle Unlimited.

Book Review: ‘Dead Lake’ by Darcy Coates

Suspenseful, dark, mysterious and occasionally macabre, ‘Dead Lake’ is a supernatural thriller set in and around a remote lake cabin. 

The anticipation with which the story starts soon turns to foreboding which grows steadily more profound as the tale progresses.

Coates’ writing is enriched with vivid imagery that stimulates the reader’s senses and imagination, immersing them in the curiosity, and then the terror, experienced by Sam, the protagonist of the story. By the two-thirds point of the story, the fear and adrenaline is palpable and the suspense creates a strong sense of dread that is both compelling and distinctly uncomfortable. 

Because of its suspense and brooding darkness, this is an excellent read that will appeal to readers of mystery, thrillers, and horror alike. 

Book Review: ‘October Jones: The Lightning Pines Mystery’ by J.D. McFarren

This is an entertaining and interesting mystery story for kids that delivers positive messages about honesty, friendship and personal integrity. 

October Jones is a likeable protagonist who kids will relate to easily. He is basically a good kid, but finds himself getting into trouble from time to time. Alongside his friends and his sister April, October takes it upon himself to solve a mystery and finds himself defending his own innocence at the same time. 

This is a kids’ novel suitable for independent readers, or for families to read together. It would make an excellent addition to any family, town or school library. 

Book Review: 'Dead by Morning' by Kayla Krantz

Teen peer pressure reaches terrifying new levels in this YA paranormal thriller, in which the protagonist Luna Ketz appears to be a most unlikely heroine: she’s not popular, she’s Muslim in a predominantly white community, and she hates Chance, the boy who is determined to get her attention. 

The tension between Luna and Chance continues to escalate as the story progresses and Luna finds herself caught in a web of conspiracy, secrecy and deceit. In a highly original blend of YA paranormal, mystery and horror, the gripping storyline is evidence of author’s ability to blend reality and fantasy in an intriguing way that engages the reader and causes them to invest emotionally in Luna’s fate.  

‘Dead By Morning’ is easy to read and hard to put down once started. 

Short Story Review: ‘Good Intentions’ by D.J.Doyle

Find your copy here.

Readers of horror who want a top quality short read will be well pleased by this dark and twisted short story, which can easily be enjoyed during a coffee or lunch break. 

Doyle’s writing is always easy to read and her characters realistic and relatable. That dreadful things can happen to ordinary people is an underlying premise that enables a great horror story to evoke shock and fear in its readers, who are invariably aware of the fact that such things could happen to anyone. When the story takes an unexpected turn, it heightens the anticipation of what is to come and the fear of the unknown. 

It is in these elements of the story that Doyle successfully manages to immerse her readers in a situation, turn it around, and leave them gasping, all within the space of just a few minutes. 

Book Review: ‘Webley and the World Machine’ by Zachary Chopchinski

The byline of ‘Webley and the World Machine’  promises “a steampunk adventure full of sass and snark” which is a very good indication of what the reader will experience in this book. The adventures of Adal and Arija make for a highly original and entertaining read. 

Adal and Arija are typical teens, each with passions and interests that motivate them, both unfailingly loyal and committed to one another as best friends. The story takes them on a journey that challenges their resilience and their individual understandings of life as they have always known it and, at the same time, strengthens and transforms their friendship. They are people that young adult readers will relate to in many ways, including their experiences of life and of other people who are not so easy to get along with, the priorities they hold, and the way they speak and interact with one another. 

The intricate and multi-textured world building in this novel is testament to the immense imagination and creativity of the author and adds a lot of interesting sensory detail to the story. The settings, characters and creatures are brought to life vividly, and the story is very well paced. 

In short, there is absolutely nothing that is boring or mundane about this book. 

Short Story Review: ‘The House That Evil Made’ by Sarah Northwood

A dark and suspenseful story in which foreboding builds gradually until the truths underlying the story are revealed. 

This story is evocatively written in a way that draws the reader into the life and mind of the central character as the innocence and natural curiosity of childhood are discarded and replaced by the bleakness of hindsight and the passion of revenge. 

‘The House That Evil Made’ is a 10-15 minute read that can be enjoyed over a coffee break or in a few spare minutes, providing a quick but satisfying escape to the reader’s day. 

Book Review: ‘Bentwhistle the Dragon – A Threat From The Past’ by Paul Cude

Find your copy here.

The first in the Bentwhistle the Dragon series of urban fantasy novels, this book is a wonderful blend of fantasy, mystery, adventure and suspense thriller. Dragons and magic abound in a parallel world that is complex and fascinating, and which remains full of surprises even for those who live there. 

Suitable for young adult and older audiences, the story explores important themes of friendship, ethics and personal integrity through the experiences of Peter Bentwhistle and his best friends, Richie and Tank. 

The characters are delightful, each with quirks and qualities that make them both likeable and relatable for human and dragon readers alike. The more sinister characters are similarly relatable, because we all know someone who is selfish or a bully. As the action rolls and the story develops, the reader is drawn deeper into the story and finds themselves very definitely on the side of the protagonists. The twists and surprises keep coming, right to the end of the book. 

Well-written and expertly constructed, this is a brilliant read.