‘After the Texans’ by Declan Milling

After the Texans

Director of Market Integrity with the UN’s carbon market watchdog, Emil Pfeffer has a problem – his girlfriend Johanna has been kidnapped. Told she’s being held as an insurance against Emil poking his nose into the corrupt government of Papua New Guinea, it seems there’s no choice but to comply, at least until he can get a lead on where she might be.

When his boss sends him to London, Emil chances on a link to Johanna’s disappearance. The possibility of a few days leave gives him the opportunity to follow the trail, but an assignment comes up he can’t get out of. On his way to meet a legal team in Hong Kong, Emil spots an unexpected face in the crowd. This time, however, following the clues lands him in a difficult situation – one he may but be able to get out of alive.

After The Texans is the second novel in the Carbon Black series. Though I hadn’t read the first one, I had no problems picking up the story. The author is a talented writer with a thorough knowledge of his subject, creating a vivid and realistic setting in the high-stakes world of fossil fuel resources and Australian domestic politics. Amid the main character’s entanglements with police and security services, this intriguing and clever thriller ripped along, with each chapter leaving me wondering what the hell was going to happen next.

Declan Milling’s writing is sharp and well observed, and his characters positively ripple with authenticity. All in all, a jolly good read.

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‘Lost Lands (Changing Times Book 2)’ by Shaun L. Griffiths

Lost Lands (Changing Times Book 2)

Haunted by an evil, unseen enemy, Carter and the snow bears set out to find Holly who’s been left for dead in a mountain pass. However, time is against them and with the apes in hot pursuit, the friends may already be too late to save her. Battling storms, ambushes and voices in their heads, they must also safeguard the Crystal and return it to their people, before their sinister rival can triumph.

This is book 2 in the Changing Times series by Shaun Griffiths, and while it’s not essential to read the first book, it’d probably help, as there’s a lot of characters to get to grips with. The epic tale is a fantasy adventure suitable for adults as well as children, and is packed with shape-shifting creatures, magic gateways and powerful crystals. The story moves from one group to another, as well as giving us an insight into the Evil force that tries to control the minds of the central characters. This is a cracking good book with some beautiful descriptions and well-developed characters – if you like The Chronicles of Narnia, this’ll be right up your fantastical street.

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‘The Community’ by S C Richmond

The Community

When a body is found in Charmsbury park, journalist Alex sets out to learn the woman’s identity. However, the mystery quickly leads her into a complex story spanning fifty years. Meanwhile, still mourning his lost love, Jack finds he has more pressing concerns than a nosy reporter – the death of a friend prompts a police investigation and it looks like The Community may be about to be exposed…

Stephanie Richmond tells a good tale – always a good sign with a debut novel. Her characters are believable and realistic and their relationships develop well over the course of the book. The narrative unfolds gradually, piece by piece, as the author poses questions and lays out her clues, allowing it to build to a comfortably satisfying conclusion. It’s an unusual mystery-cum-love story that kept me guessing almost until the end. My only criticism – and it’s a small one – is that it was maybe a bit too long and might’ve worked better if the action (especially in the closing chapters) was condensed a little.

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‘Living Like A Vampire’ by Jacky Dahlhaus

Living Like a Vampire (Suckers Book 1)

A dangerous virus brings deadly consequences to a small town in Maine. During Black October, faced with the threat of being turned into a super-strong blood-sucker, schoolteacher Kate naturally decides to get out of town. Along with two friends, she heads for a safe place to hide – but the vampiric menace has far-reaching consequences that will change her life forever.

I’m not a great lover of vampire stories, particularly those that simply churn out the same old bitey routines over and over. However, I’d read an earlier version of this book (originally titled Succedaneum’), and thought the author had an interesting take on what’s become a bit of a tired genre. With this rewrite, Jacky Dahlhaus has produced a clever and witty novel, creating a bunch of interesting and quirky characters who grabbed my attention by doing exactly what I didn’t expect.

I loved the rapport with the three teachers, especially the rather complicated relationship between Charlie and Kate, and I liked the way the characters developed over the course of the novel. The story surprised me several times, going in directions I hadn’t anticipated. It’s also very funny, which added a nice tongue-in-cheek feel to the book. I’ll happily admit that Ms Dahlhaus is no Anne Rice or Stephen King, but she writes a damn good tale of vampires, with plenty to get your teeth into.

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‘Toxic Minds’ by Gordon Bickerstaff

Toxic Minds

High flyer Alexa Sommer works hard in a controversial job where backstabbing and sneaky tactics are the norm, but the fallout from her divorce has ramifications she couldn’t have foreseen. When her daughter accuses Alexa’s estranged husband of child abuse, it seems their world is heading for a major meltdown. Fighting to save her job and her family, Alexa finds herself with few friends and plenty of enemies. Her only hope is her colleague, the biochemist Gavin Shawlens, but he has problems of his own…

‘Toxic Minds’ is the fourth book in the Gavin Shawlens series, though it works well as a stand-alone thriller. This time the hero takes a lesser role, while the main action concerns the plight of career-woman Alexa and her daughter. This is the second time I’ve picked up a Gordon Bickerstaff novel and while it certainly is a bit of a page turner with plenty to get your teeth into, it didn’t quite have the bite and drive of my previous read (Deadly Secrets). The various plot strands are a little complex, but come together nicely at the end, with the usual Bickerstaff twists to finish off the action.

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‘Storey’ by Keith Dixon


Returning to his home town of Coventry to escape the difficulties of his professional life, Paul Storey decides to take things one day at a time. But when he meets an attractive young woman who has a habit of manipulating everyone she comes into contact with, he starts to wonder what he’s getting into. Is she just playing silly games, or is there a more sinister reason behind her behaviour? Certainly, the low-life rogues she hangs around with aren’t what Storey had in mind for a social life – in fact, they’re exactly the sort of people he’s been trying to avoid.

This is my first taste of this author’s work and I’m very happy to say it won’t be the last. The novel begins quietly, sliding its characters into your mind, planting the seeds of what’s to come. There’s no hit-hard, smack-em-over-the-head opening, but rather a slow-burning fuse that sizzles away, gathering momentum, building to a thrilling climax. Keith Dixon’s writing appears deceptively simple, the text easy on the eye, the language ordinary and straightforward. Except – it isn’t. The author’s skill is in avoiding the obvious, painting a picture we can’t quite see as he introduces his characters, each subtly different, beautifully drawn and wryly observed. This is a highly intelligent, witty and well-plotted thriller that’ll keep you guessing til the end.

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‘Jurassic Park’ by Michael Crichton

Jurassic Park

We all know the story – a remote jungle island, genetic engineering that knows no bounds, and a bunch of humans who (mostly) think they’re in control. Naturally, the creatures Hammond and his pals create have other ideas and when given the opportunity to escape their enclosures, carnage and catastrophe can’t be far behind.

I feel a little ashamed to admit that this is the first Michael Critchton novel I’ve read, and even more so that it’s taken me so long to get round to it. Anyway, having seen the movie (and all the sequels) I was surprised to see how different the novel is – not in the basic storyline so much (though there are significant differences), but in the sheer amount of detail that reinforces the novel. Though it takes a while for the dino action to get going, there was no feeling of being held back by Crichton’s character development and explanations of the complex theories behind recreating dinosaurs. For the most part this is a good old rollicking adventure with plenty of torn limbs and ground-shaking panic. An absolutely fascinating read for all fans of noisy monsters and screaming kids.

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‘The Seven Year Dress’ by Paulette Mahurin

The Seven Year Dress: A Novel
In the darkest era of human history Hitler’s plan to rid the world of Jews and ‘undesirables’ led to the slaughter of millions of innocent people. Paulette Mahurin tells the story of one woman who lived through it. Helen Stein sees her family torn apart and finds herself thrown into the hell that is Auschwitz. Here she endures shocking indignities at the hands of the SS, but also encounters compassion, kindness and friendship.

This is an ambitious novel telling the fictional story of a woman who survives Auschwitz. Mahurin’s protagonist is a complex character whose resilience and compassion shines through in this thoughtful and intelligent tale. While the writing style is at times a little long-winded, and the graphic detail described by the author won’t be to everyone’s taste, this well-researched book should have wide appeal.

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‘The Wolves of Willoughby Chase’ by Joan Aiken

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (The Wolves Chronicles Book 1)


In an England that never existed, in a time of Victorian values, the country is overrun with wolves. When young Sylvia embarks on a long train journey to stay with her cousin Bonnie, things begin to go wrong very quickly. With Bonnie’s parents leaving for sunnier climes, the girls discover their new governess, the sour-faced Miss Slighcarp, has plans that don’t include her distant relatives. Punishing the girls for apparent misdemeanours, she gets rid of all the faithful servants, retaining only those whose outlook is as harsh as her own.

Joan Aiken’s best-known book is written in a style that evokes the finest in children’s literature. The characters and descriptions are at times a little stereotypical (in the Dickensian tradition of highlighting all that is lacking in society), and the girls’ adventures occasionally skim over a little too quickly. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray into Ms Aiken’s work and will definitely be reading the other books in the Wolves Chronicle series.

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‘Who Killed Vivien Morse?’ by Diana J Febry

Who Killed Vivien Morse (DCI Hatherall Book 4)

When young social worker Vivien Morse is found battered to death in Silver Lady Woods, suspicion immediately falls on her estranged husband. However, when Vivien’s supervisor also disappears, the case begins to get a little complicated. Police follow the trail to Vivien’s last client – a disturbed girl who carries a bundle of rags around with her, believing it to be her lost baby.

This is the fourth book featuring DCI Hatherall (a detective with the obligatory difficult home life). As I haven’t read the others, I thought that might be a problem but the novel works very well as a stand-alone mystery. There are plenty of clues, but the murder trail seems to lead everywhere but the truth. Throw in some strange characters (like Dick the Druid) and the abusive husband (who, naturally, has an alibi), and you’ve got a nice mix of suspects. And then there’s the escaped prisoner…

This is a well thought out story with plenty of twists that somehow manages to pull all the loose ends together just in time for the end.

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