Killing Kindness by Lisa Sell

Lisa asked for a little help spreading the word by sharing the first chapter of her new novel, and I’m happy to oblige. Please find below, along with a link to purchase the book if it tickles your crime tastebuds!

Summer 1992: The Six, a group of teenagers, met in a disused mill every night. They thought they were invincible until Simon, a kind young man, disappeared.

Summer 2021: The Six – minus Simon – gather at the renovated mill for his memorial. The reunion begins and a deadly game of cat and mouse ensues. The body count rises. Someone is killing kindness. It’s cruel to be kind…

CHAPTER ONE

Three long, hot weeks ended in death. Teenage temperaments boiled over. Humidity slicked their skin with sweat. Blaming the heat for the group falling apart was too convenient. More than mugginess made Simon Pritchard snap.

The Six were united in a common purpose. Every summer holiday, activities took place, giving parents the chance to offload their offspring. Six sixteen-year-olds, fresh from finishing GCSEs, were the chosen ones. Selected teens earned cash helping to run Trillhaven’s holiday club alongside adult supervisors. The Six was hardly an inspired name, but the adults found it helped the assistants to bond. Being in a group made them feel elite. Those only a few years younger respected their authority.

Alex, Kat, Joe, Stevie, Erin, and Simon formed the gang of 1992. Kids hung around them, desperate to be a favourite. The adult helpers admired the teens’ work ethic while ignoring their night-time shenanigans. Young adults need to let loose, particularly when preparing for further education or work. A disused mill on the outskirts of Trillhaven became a playground. There they learnt how to tip from childhood over the cusp into adulthood. The Six discovered the joys of alcohol, accompanied by a love of music and sometimes each other. The owner of the mill watched from her cottage across the way. She stayed out of their business until she had no choice.

On the last evening of the holiday club, children danced to a DJ’s cheesy tunes. Nearly every local entertainment event was led by him. The Dorset town of Trillhaven lacked social opportunities. Everything was small, including the locals’ closed minds, overpopulated residential areas, and crammed schools. A blanket woven with community gossip and judgement spread wide over them all. 

The pressure of small town life weighed on Simon. From experience, everyone expected him to be nice. If the dictionary had a visual representation of kindness, Simon’s photograph would be on display, not that he would’ve appreciated it. The young man hated his babyish face and impish grin. Sharper, more mature features might have allowed him to say no more often and for it to be accepted.

Simon’s friends believed his cup of kindness would always run over. That summer, they received it in abundance, until the boy broke. We all have darker natures we try to suppress. For a while, Simon kept his demons hidden.

Then came Friday 21 August 1992, when The Six disintegrated. Fights, betrayal, disappointment, and damning allegations signalled the end.

Kindness isn’t infinite. That night, Simon killed kindness. He might have murdered a man, too. Simon can’t tell anyone what happened. He was never seen again.

Link to purchase:

https://mybook.to/KillingKindness

Review of Vulnerable in Front of Fiction Vol. 1,by Gayle Ramage

Vulnerable In Front Of Fiction, Gayle Ramage

From the cover

Two bodysnatchers find themselves in a bidding war – by the dead. A passion for books proves fatal for a librarian. Santa Claus is reminded of his third list. A zombie gleefully awaits the Uprising. A teenager realises too late that pranks can have dire consequences.

With bickering wise men, sinister clocks, and charismatic stomachs, Vulnerable In Front Of Fiction contains the weird and the wonderful, the dark and the light. 14 tales to entertain and intrigue.

(I was given a copy of this book in return for an honest review.)

Review

This book has an absolutely beautiful cover, I love it.

It’s been a long time since I read any short stories, and these, written largely during the pandemic, are some cracking examples.

There are some very disconcerting concepts and events included, but I think my favourite was the truly awful human being who luxuriated in becoming a zombie in The Great British Zombie Uprising! That and one of the shortest, Moon.

Gayle writes well, world-building with such a short space to do it is a real skill. Characters come to life with just a few words. There is humour and horror in equal measure here, and very often a twist in the tale. I’m really looking forward to reading more by this author, bring on volume 2!

The links to the book on Amazon and Waterstones, and the author’s website, are below.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Vulnerable-Front-Fiction-Vol-Speculative-ebook/dp/B09768DPXP

https://www.waterstones.com/book/vulnerable-in-front-of-fiction-vol-1/gayle-ramage/9798486830815

https://www.gayleramage.co.uk/

Blog Tour stop: Review of London In Black by Jack Lutz

(I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review. And boy am I glad I did, I loved it.)

FROM THE COVER:

THE ATTACKS WON’T STOP. NEITHER WILL SHE.

LONDON 2027.

Terrorists deploy London Black, a highly sophisticated nerve gas, at Waterloo Station. For ten percent of the population – the ‘Vulnerables’ – exposure means near-certain death. Only a lucky few survive.

LONDON 2029.

Copy-cat strikes plague the city, its Vulnerable inhabitants kept safe by regular Boost injections. As the anniversary of the first attacks draws near, DI Lucy Stone, a guilt-ridden Vulnerable herself, is called to investigate the gruesome murder of a scientist. Her investigation soon unearths the possibility that he was working on an antidote – one that Lucy desperately needs, as her Boosts become less and less effective.

But is the antidote real? And can Lucy solve the case before her Boosts stop working?

REVIEW

This is my stop on the blog tour for this near-future, dystopian detective slightly sci-fi thriller. I keep picturing it as a film, with Noomi Rapace in the lead role. She’d be perfect as the battered and bruised (literally and emotionally) Met detective, haunted by a past horrific event and determined to make amends before the guilt overwhelms her.

Her flat is deliberately stripped bare of comforts, even doors and furniture; she dreads sleep and mainlines coffee-and-Coke chasers to stay awake. And her Boosts are working for less and less time each day.

I love Andrew Hunter-Murray’s books and this is in a similar vein; London-as-could-very-well-soon-be, and it’s told in flashbacks and in the present time. On paper it sounds a little formulaic but it’s not, it’s brilliant. It’s twisty and dark, with genuine horror moments. It’s also funny and so descriptive, the London world-building is excellent. I don’t know the city beyond the tourist spots but I imagine if you did you would enjoy following the action around the dirty, clogged future streets.

It holds back from spoon-feeding the reader, you are kept in the dark as to what The Thing That Happened was, and the fate of various characters seen in the flashbacks.

In short, if dystopian crime is your thing, especially when led by a strong female character who really doesn’t take any crap, do not miss this one.

https://www.waterstones.com/book/london-in-black/jack-lutz/9781782278047

https://uk.bookshop.org/books?keywords=9781782278047

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=9781782278047

Review of Science and the Art of Zoo Bus Maintenance, by Dr Mike Leahy

From the back cover

It is said that everyone is only three decisions away from homelessness and, after a successful career as a virologist and TV presenter, Mike Leahy found out just that. Desperate times called for desperate measures. One night after one beer too many he decided that a Zoo Bus seemed like a sensible solution to his predicament and within a few days he had thrown himself into building an unlikely educational project based on an old London bus that he bought on eBay. However unhinged his solution seemed to others, Mike now had a new mission. He would work with a troop of rescue animals (some venomous), educating students and the public about killer bugs, the environment and neglected tropical diseases while at the same time navigating an unreliable old double decker bus to communities and schools across Great Britain. What could possibly go wrong?

REVIEW

I first saw Dr Mike on the BBC TV show Rough Science, where a group of half a dozen scientists and engineers covering disparate subjects are abandoned in an out-of-the-way place and, much like Matt Damon’s character in The Martian, have to “science the sh*t out of it” to make their given goals. If you can catch it, it’s great fun and very interesting.

Then I saw the Nat Geo series Bite Me, featuring Mike adventuring across the globe and encountering various fascinating but decidedly and usually bitey weird creatures.

I followed the writing of his book via his Twitter account, @OfficialDrMike, and had to get my hands on a copy. It is funny, educational, heartfelt and moving. I particularly like the quotes that begin each chapter, from Albert Camus to Angelina Jolie. Brilliant.

It tells the story, after a period of homelessness (even after a successful scientific career and TV presenting jobs, which just goes to show a change of fortune can happen to anyone at any time), of the inception and building of the educational Zoo Bus, an absolutely genius if hugely ambitious project that Mike undertook. If you ever wondered how to keep a leech happy, now you will know!

And the Tale of the Tapeworm is an eye opener!

In short, this book is really, really fascinating, will make you laugh, and will also open your eyes to the challenges the environment and the Earth’s flora & fauna face around the world.

/https://www.amazon.co.uk/Science-Zoo-Bus-Maintenance-Mike-Leahy-ebook/dp/B09663F7VJ

Blog Tour: Review of Where Did I Go Right? by Geoff Norcott

My spot on the new blog tour for Where Did I Go Right? How the Left Lost Me.

SYNOPSIS

‘Voting Conservative is like buying a James Blunt album: loads of people have
done it, but weirdly you never meet them …’

Comedian Geoff Norcott should have been Labour through and through. He grew up on a council estate, both of his parents were disabled, and his Dad was a Union man. So, how was it that he grew up to vote Tory? In this courageously honest and provocative memoir, Geoff unpicks his working-class upbringing and his political journey from left to right. Raised by a fierce matriarch and a maverick father on a South London council estate where they filmed scenes for The Bill, Geoff spends his youth attempting to put out kitchen fires with aerosols and leaping in and out of industrial skips. But as he reaches adolescence, his political views begin to be influenced by major events including the early 90s recession, the credit crunch, and a chance encounter with Conservative PM John Major. As an adult, Geoff begins to have the gnawing feeling that the values and traditions he grew up with no longer match Labour’s. And, as Brexit appears, he feels even more like a double agent operating behind enemy lines. Written with warmth, wit and often laugh-out-loud humour, Where Did I Go Right? is Geoff’s attempt to understand why he ended up voting ‘for the bad guys’, and why blue collared conservatism could be here to stay.

REVIEW

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I’m definitely on the left of politics, and I admit that whilst I have always made sure to vote (you can’t moan about anything if you didn’t at least take part!) I do often try and tune it out, especially at the moment. But I’ve always found Geoff to be funny, honest and self-deprecating, when he pops up on The Mash Report and Mock the Week. I love those qualities in a person.

I also firmly believe that you should try and see other people’s perspectives, otherwise you are trapped, assuming that you know everything, in a narrow view of the world. So I thought reading his biography would be a good move.

This book begins with Geoff’s working class childhood on a council estate in South London, his Dad a Union man; so far, so Labour, and then charts his path through school, university and profession. Brexit is of course included, again I voted differently to Geoff and it’s interesting to see a different perspective.

The memoir is bookended with the General Election of December 2019. It is very funny, and in parts rather sad and lonely, as Geoff deals with tragedy in his life far from the political world.

I did enjoy reading this book, and I do recommend it.

https://www.octopusbooks.co.uk/titles/geoff-norcott/where-did-i-go-right/9781913183462/

/https://www.amazon.co.uk/Where-Did-I-Go-Right-Memoirs/dp/19131843459

/https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57986086-where-did-i-go-right

Review of The End Of Men, by Christina Sweeney-Baird

(This review does contain spoilers)

This feels very much a book of these strange and troubled times, but amazingly it was begun in September 2018 and finished in June 2019. The author professes her amazement and horror in the preface. Imagine how she must have felt, seeing a version of the depths of her darkest imagination becoming very real.

I think how you feel about this story may well depend on whether you identify as a man or a woman (to be very binary about it – in the book itself, due to the science and symptoms of the plague’s victims and carriers, any nuances around genetic man/woman are largely glossed over).

It begins with the frustrations of a woman doctor in Glasgow who sees that something unusual and horrible is happening, and the hierarchical medical establishment (which to be fair does include women) ignores her concerns. It may or may not have made a difference if she was listened to. The ongoing story does rather starkly present how much of the world is male oriented.

The focus of the book is the plague beginning in Scotland and then the story progresses largely in the Western hemisphere, with a small foray to follow a character in Singapore; the author of the book (that a narrator of The End of Men produces) does address this. Once civilisation essentially is locked down it’s hard to encompass a wider world! The chapters are split between several character’s viewpoints, which works brilliantly to ramp up the tension and the despair. One person or family ignorant of important events happening to others.

I found the tables-turning of the female experience of street harassment and ogling to the now much-rarer men suffering from it to be, whilst refreshing, still a little bit too, I don’t know, expected? And I wasn’t convinced that so many hetero women would develop relationships with other women as men became scarce. Shades of you must have a partner to be happy. And there are some male characters by the end who think themselves very much ignored by a female-led society, again, it felt just a little shoehorned in.

But I really did find this book unputdownably and utterly riveting, especially reading it in the middle of a lockdown that had made the pandemic-suffering world a strange and crazy place. If ever we forget what the pandemic was like we need only pick this book up again for a reminder.

Can I recommend a bookseller, Bert’s Books, who goes over and above and helps us avoid the dreaded ‘big river’ emporium? At the moment he has signed copies. He’s just opened a real actual shop in Swindon if you are in that neck of the woods.

/https://bertsbooks.co.uk/product/the-end-of-men/

Blog Tour: Review of The Great Convergence by Thomas Kast

The Great Convergence by Thomas Kast

Today is my spot on the blog tour for this sparky novel from an original new author.

Welcome to one million years from now. As far as the humans in this story are concerned, the same old problems arise as they ever have. Work relationships, career progression, partners, gaining tenure, and what even is Art? It’s all just as much of a problem aeons into the future as it is now.

The author of this wonderfully strange debut tale is Thomas Kast, a photojournalist and illustrator with Asperger’s syndrome, now based in Switzerland, who previously taught photography and design at colleges across Israel. His experiences are woven deftly throughout this book.

Thomas Kast

If you love your science fiction subversive, odd and satirical, this is definitely for you. It’s stuffed with quirky ingenuity and forthrightness. It does take quite a bit of concentration to follow; I tried reading it whilst watching The Witcher (other fantasy series are available) and the TV had to go! There were a lot of words I had to look up, like viscid and tenebrous (and that’s from the same paragraph!). I loved that.

You will never look at a house fly the same way again. Especially if they happen to be hovering in circles above you in a pair. And there is something lovely about a chapter heading proclaiming it is the 18th April, so far so normal, in the year 9,984,625.

The book also includes an appendix with glossaries and timelines, which I only discovered when I’d finished it!

Author website http://www.thomaskast .com

Book website http://www.thomaskast.space

Review of From The Grave Of The Gods: The Augment Saga Book 1, by Alan K. Dell

(I received a copy of this novel in return for a fair and honest review.)

I do love a good near-future sci fi tale, and FTGOTG, the first book of the author’s Augment Saga, definitely fits the bill. Anything that opens with a quote from Nikola Tesla gets my vote.

The plot is pacey and the characters well drawn and relatable, although the slightly tired trope of a Russian cosmonaut speaking stilted English is in evidence, and by the end of the book you will know the author’s favourite phrases include ‘the two companions’ and ‘detritus’.

But this is minor quibbling and doesn’t detract from the strong storyline. Trying not to give away any spoilers here, it centres around an astronaut who becomes embroiled in an increasingly wide conspiracy through no fault of his own, and struggles with guilt and personal relationships, alongside more physical issues.

The scenes are well described and varied, ranging from a spaceship journeying to the surface of Mars, to places across London and the south east, and an American desert military facility. You feel the onboard claustrophobia, the sweaty summertime offices, the cool beachside nights. The constricting space suits and stifling helmets.

There is an opening prologue featuring the astronaut, the quite disturbing subject of which doesn’t appear again in the book, so I assume it’s part of a teaser for the next in the series, The Shadow of Arcadia. I will definitely be looking out for it.

Throwback Thursday: Review of The Feast, by Margaret Kennedy

The Feast, Margaret Kennedy

I admit I picked this book up initially because of the beautiful cover painting of a Cornish beach in the Forties. The back is just as lovely.

It reminds me of Gyllyngvase beach in Falmouth, where if you flew high enough over it you could see the coast on the other side of the town.

The introduction by Cathy Rentzenbrink in the this 2021 edition sets the scene and explains some of the history of the book. Published in 1950, the story starts at the end of events, in summer 1947, with a slightly down-at-heel boarding house buried under a cliff fall. A local clergyman is telling his visiting friend all about it – it had made the news across the country.

The story is an allegory for the seven deadly sins, told in seven parts for each day of the week leading up to the disaster. There are seven characters who each embody a different sin, and you learn from the Reverend that many met a sticky end when the cliff fell, and as many survived, so the book gets very tense towards the end! If you didn’t know or guess any of this undercurrent you would enjoy the story just as much.

The inhabitants of Pendizack Manor Hotel are well written, some will tug at your heartstrings, others you will want to push off the cliff without waiting for it to fall. Several are deeply irritating, or just awful people. But the best are those just trying to get through each day having been the best person they could, in their straightened circumstances.

It does have a touch of an Agatha Christie mystery, and it evokes the post-war atmosphere wonderfully; some having benefitted, some lost everything, and others just letting the world go by without paying much attention to anything from ‘the Government’. It seems the decades change but people don’t!

Review of Funny You Should Ask… by The QI Elves

“Above all, this book is a chance to pause, sit back and marvel at our amazing world.”

Zoe Ball
Funny You Should Ask, and Funny You Should Ask… Again, by the QI Elves

You can’t beat a book from the QI team and these two are absolute crackers. Perfect for reading cover to cover or dipping in and out of. Although you run the risk of reading one fact and still being sat reading an hour and thirty facts later.

You will learn so much, and if anything like me, bore your family rigid with every new fascinating tidbit. Things that you took for granted that you know, but you really don’t.

I haven’t managed to ever catch the segment on Zoe Ball’s BBC2 radio show, The Why Workshop, that these books were born from, but I imagine these more than make up for it.

I would also recommend the podcast from the QI Elves, No Such Thing As A Fish. There are years of episodes available, and Anna, James, Andrew and Dan do take a show on tour where they record a podcast live quite regularly. I’ve seen it three times myself.

So if you are curious about the world around you, and the oddest parts of it at that, these are the fact books for you.