Reading

A Man Named Doll – Jonathan Ames | A Book Review

A Man Named Doll - Jonathan Ames

Title: A Man Named Doll

Author: Jonathan Ames

Genre: Mystery

About the book: It follows Happy Doll who is a private detective by day and a security guard at night for a local Thai spa. When Lou Shelton, an old friend appears at Doll’s doorstep with a bullet in him, he tries to figure out what happened to Lou.

I received a reader copy from Hachette Book Group in exchange for an honest review.

First impressions: I’ve never read anything by Ames before, but the premise drew me in. The book is short at a little over 200 pages, so I anticipated it being a fast-paced read. I enjoyed how the author sets up the beginning of the story.

Characters: The novel lives up to its title in that it revolves around a character named Doll. I liked learning more about him, especially his past and seeing how past events shaped who he is today. Due to the short length of the book, there isn’t much space to explore other secondary characters in much depth.

Quote:

“He’d seen the worst in people and thought the worst of people.”

Writing: It’s broken up into 3 parts with short chapters. The story is told in first person point of view from Doll’s perspective, and he has a quirky sense of humour. I haven’t read a lot of noir books, so the different style made for an interesting reading experience. There are some graphic scenes and mature language.

Final thoughts: I had no idea how it would end, but it felt like everything was wrapped up almost too quickly and easily. If you want a quick read featuring a unique character who makes questionable choices, consider checking out A Man Named Doll.


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Reading

Local Woman Missing – Mary Kubica | A Book Review

Local Woman Missing - Mary Kubica

Title: Local Woman Missing

Author: Mary Kubica

Genre: Thriller

About the book: It’s a standalone novel about a small town neighbourhood where three people disappear. First Shelby Tebow goes missing, then Meredith Dickey and her daughter, Delilah, disappear. The incidents may be connected, but when the search doesn’t lead to many answers, the case eventually goes cold. After eleven years, Delilah returns, and everyone wants to uncover the truth about what happened.

I received an advanced reader copy from HarperCollins Canada in exchange for an honest review.

First impressions: I love a good thriller as much as the nest person. I’ve read Every Last Lie by Kubica before, and reading the premise of her latest novel piqued my interest. The beginning made me think the story was going to go in a certain direction, which kept me turning the pages.

Characters: The story is told from different points of view: Delilah, Meredith, Leo, and Kate. The author creates interesting characters who aren’t perfect and are flawed. I appreciated the LGBTQ representation between Kate and Bea, two women in a relationship together.

Quote:

“People’s minds can deceive them, or they can be tricked into remembering things that never happened in the first place.”

Writing: The book alternates between eleven years ago in the past and present day. It’s about 350 pages long, making for a quick read. I enjoyed the short chapters as well as the cliffhangers. At times, there’s more telling than showing though.

Final thoughts: I wasn’t sure how the novel would end, so the ending took me by surprise. It wraps up loose ends without dragging things out. If you’re looking for a fast-paced thriller about different relationships, pick up Local Woman Missing.


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Reading

Kingdom of Ash – Sarah J. Maas | A Book Review

Kingdom of Ash - Sarah J. Maas

Title: Kingdom of Ash

Author: Sarah J. Maas

Genre: Fantasy (New Adult)

About the book: It’s the final book in the Throne of Glass series. Aelin Galathynius is captured by Maeve, and her friends are scattered across the continent. They come together to fight in a battle for a better world.

First impressions: I’ve read the other books, so I wanted to know how the series would end. I’m a fan of the title and cover. The beginning with Aelin being tortured is dark and explores some difficult themes.

Characters: There are many different characters as well as relationships. Aelin, Elide, Yrene, and Manon resonated with me the most. I appreciate all the development and growth, but I would’ve liked more diversity and representation.

Quote:

“She was done making herself appear nice for men whom she had no interest in being nice to.”

Writing: The book is almost 1,000 pages, so it’s a long and slow read. I like how Maas tells the story from several alternating viewpoints. That said, I found certain storylines held my attention better than others. There are some sexual and graphic scenes as well.

Final thoughts: In my opinion, the ending isn’t too surprising or unexpected. I anticipated that some characters would die while most would survive. A lot of them are coupled up in the end, but I wouldn’t have minded if some of romantic relationships were just friendships instead.

If you want to read a high fantasy with plenty of magic and romance, check out Kingdom of Ash. In order to follow along, I’d recommend reading the rest of the books first. Although this novel isn’t for everyone, I enjoyed the happy and heartbreaking moments.


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Reading

Witches Steeped in Gold – Ciannon Smart | A Book Review

Witches Steeped in Gold - Ciannon Smart

Title: Witches Steeped in Gold

Author: Ciannon Smart

Genre: Fantasy (Young Adult)

About the book: It’s the first in a Jamaican-inspired series that follows Iraya who has spent her life in a prison cell and Jazmyne, the doyenne’s daughter. These two enemy witches work together to defeat a common threat.

I received an advanced reader copy from HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.

First impressions: I was excited to read the story because the premise piqued my interest. The cover is gorgeous, and I also love the title. In the beginning, Smart develops the world and sets the stage for what’s to come.

Characters: The main protagonists are Iraya and Jazmyne, two witches who come from very different backgrounds, but they have similar goals. At times, I wasn’t even sure who to root for as Iraya and Jazmyne both make difficult choices throughout the book. Overall, I love the diversity and representation.

Quote:

“However difficult it has become to avoid, friendship is a noose I can’t afford.”

Writing: Told from alternating points of view, the book is over 500 pages long. The plot takes a while to get going, so I found the start of the story to be slower. Sometimes there’s a lot of information to take in.

Final thoughts: The pacing picks up at the end with some unexpected surprises. While the beginning and middle are description heavy, the ending contains more action. If you like longer fantasy novels full of magic, you might enjoy Witches Steeped in Gold.


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Reading

Blood Grove – Walter Mosley | A Book Review

Blood Grove - Walter Mosley

Title: Blood Grove

Author: Walter Mosley

Genre: Mystery

About the book: It’s the 15th book in the Easy Rawlins series that follows a Black private detective during 1969. When a white Vietnam veteran thinks he may have killed a man, he approaches Easy and asks him to investigate what happened. Easy decides to take on the case, especially after seeing how traumatized the young vet is from war, but he’ll need to rely on the help of his friends to solve the mystery.

I received a reader copy from Hachette Book Group in exchange for an honest review.

First impressions: I love a good crime novel and the setting of this story intrigued me. I didn’t realize the book was part of a series, but I could follow along just fine.

Characters: There are a lot more characters than I expected. It would’ve helped if I had read the previous books. That being said, I appreciate that the author portrays different people and explores how race affects relationships.

Quote:

“You only die once, but giving in to fear was endless defeat.”

Writing: The chapters are short, and the scenes are even shorter. It’s a little over 300 pages, so the novel isn’t a long read. The plot takes a bit of time to unfold at the beginning, but it picks up near the end. Mosley’s writing style isn’t overly descriptive, and more often than not, the dialogue advances the story.

Final thoughts: I had no idea how the story would end because of the different twists and turns. For the most part, the ending resolves the mystery. If you want to read a crime thriller that examines racism in America during the 1900s, you may enjoy Blood Grove and the Easy Rawlins series.


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Reading

Author Interview – Richie Billing

Author Interview - Richie Billing Banner

1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m from a city called Liverpool, well-known around the world for birthing The Beatles and Liverpool Football Club (and Everton too, though typically as the team I support they’re neither as good nor well known).

In past years I’ve worked as a lawyer—a job I gave up to pursue writing—and managed an Irish community centre. Now I manage a digital marketing company.

I’m a big NBA fan and follow the Boston Celtics. So most nights you can either find me watching hoops or tapping away at my keyboard. 

2. When and why did you start writing?

I think I started writing properly when I was about 23. I’d finished uni at 21, dipped in and out of semi-serious jobs, wrote a sitcom with a friend, and then just felt a bit lost. 

I wasn’t fulfilled in the things I was doing. And around the same time I rekindled my love of reading. I suppose in an effort to escape the void I turned to books—fantasy mostly—and in them found a bit of purpose. 

People have always said to me that they enjoyed my writing. Even law essays, which I found weird. And after we finished the sitcom I had no projects to do. So I decided to write something new, and given my renewed love for fantasy books, I began to think of ideas for my own. 

Around the same time I kept seeing magpies. Literally everywhere I turned I saw a magpie. Which got me thinking. And then came the idea for my first novel. The rest is history. 

3. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

No. In my younger days I flitted through desires of fantastical careers before settling on law. It didn’t turn out as I imagined and my life has since pivoted. But I’m so much happier doing what I love. Writing is a part of my life now. I can’t imagine what it would be like without it. 

4. Where do you draw inspiration from?

Mostly the world around me. The people I meet and see in the street. The things I read in the news and in books. Sometimes ideas just come to me while daydreaming. 

Most times they’ll come in fragments and you’ll either need to look for the other parts or wait patiently for them to come. Then it’s a matter of putting them together. 

I seek to instill a bit of purpose in my stories, particularly drawing upon real world issues. With Pariah’s Lament, I drew on issues to do with the migration and refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East, illustrating the inhumanities, helplessness and desperation. 

I also comment upon nuclear weapons—the unnecessary threat that hangs over us all, the foolishness of keeping them, and the temptation to wield them for ill purposes. 

5. What part of the writing process do you enjoy the most?

A lot of the time, writing almost feels like a problem solving exercise. A literary game, like a jigsaw. As an editor, I’m forever toying around with words, sentences and paragraphs, trying to find the perfect sequence. Weirdly I’ve come to enjoy this, mostly because of the tremendous satisfaction I feel when readers tell me they enjoyed the story. 

6. Can you tell us a little bit about your debut novel?

Let me give you the blurb:

“So often it’s the forgotten who possess the power to change the world.”

When an attempt is made on the life of Ashara, Keeper of Yurr, his young, hapless advisor Edvar must uncover and stop those behind it. With enemies in the capital city and the belligerent Tesh, Keeper of neighboring kingdom Karrabar stirring trouble in the Borderlands, can Edvar hold together Ashara’s brittle reign? 

The troubles ripple throughout Yurr, affecting an ancient race of people known as the Amast, who in their time of utmost need, turn to pariah Isy for salvation. Rejected by society, kith and kin, can Isy guide the Amast to safety during the greatest turmoil Yurr has known since the War of the Damned?

I’ve invested an awful lot of time and effort into this book and the only thing I want is for people to read and hopefully enjoy it. The reviews have so far blown me away, so if you love an underdog, action-packed stories and a touch of romance told in the style of GRRM and Joe Abercrombie, give Pariah’s Lament a glance. 

7. What’s one thing you wish you knew about writing or publishing before you started?

How important marketing is. When I began I appreciated that I wasn’t that good a writer so set out to improve. I didn’t understand that while I was doing that I could have been doing some simple things to build a following and readership. 

That said, if I hadn’t invested all that time I may not be where I am today. 

8. Who is your favourite author and why?

George RR Martin. Maybe an obvious choice, but I don’t care. Nobody has ever enraptured me so much. One night, struggling to sleep, I decided to read a bit of Storm of Swords. When next I checked the time it was 7am. It was like the best joint in the world and I couldn’t stop smoking it. 

So he may be a slow writer, but he’s a true master of the craft that possesses an insightful understanding of humanity. 

9. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Persevere. Never ever give up, even when it feels more appealing than rolling around with a bunch of puppies. The difference between writers and everyone else is that the writers didn’t give up. They stayed in the chair and worked through their problems and kept on going until they finished.

10. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

If you would like to check out Pariah’s Lament, please do go on and explore! Over on my website you can find the first chapter in both text and in 3D audio format. Plus when you join my community of readers, you can get the first 4 chapters delivered right to your inbox. 

If you just want more book and writing chat, there’s plenty to be had on my site, www.richiebilling.com. And I also have a writing group you may be interested in joining. Click here to do just that. 

Thanks for listening to my rambles!


About Richie Billing

Richie Billing writes fantasy fiction, historical fiction and stories of a darker nature. His short fiction has been published by, amongst others, Kzine, TANSTAAFL Press, Bewildering Stories, Liquid Imagination, The Magazine of History & Fiction, Aether and Ichor, and Far Horizons. 

His debut novel, Pariah’s Lament, will be published by Of Metal and Magic Publishing on 17th March 2021. He co-hosts the podcast The Fantasy Writers’ Toolshed, a venture inspired by the requests of readers of his critically-acclaimed book, A Fantasy Writers’ Handbook

Most nights you can find him up into the wee hours scribbling away or watching the NBA. Find out more at www.richiebilling.com.

Reading

Rich People Problems – Kevin Kwan | A Book Review

Rich People Problems - Kevin Kwan

Title: Rich People Problems

Author: Kevin Kwan

Genre: Contemporary

About the book: It’s the third and final book in the Crazy Rich Asians series. When Nicholas Young’s grandmother, Su Yi, has a heart attack, the family rushes to her side in Shanghai. Nick’s childhood home isn’t the same with everyone wondering who will inherit what from her fortune.

First impressions: I read the first two books already, and I would recommend reading the series in order as this novel references previous events. I was looking forward to seeing how Kwan would wrap things up.

Characters: There’s a family tree included at the beginning, and I found myself referencing it often. With so many characters and relationships, I had to read slowly and carefully. By the end, I grew to like a lot of the family members for different reasons. Even the secondary characters are fleshed out and well developed.

Quote:

“Sometimes, the thing that at first apears flawed can end up being the most perfect thing in the world for you.”

Writing: The book is almost 600 pages in length, but the chapters aren’t too long with breaks throughout them as well. Kwan has such a distinct, descriptive writing style. The pacing picks up as the plot unfolds, and he includes some interesting twists along the way.

Final thoughts: Even though I wasn’t sure what to expect, I’m satisfied with the ending. If you’re looking for a fun series filled with drama, humour, and romance, check out Rich People Problems.


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Reading

The Death of Mrs. Westaway – Ruth Ware | A Book Review

The Death of Mrs. Westaway - Ruth Ware

Title: The Death of Mrs. Westaway

Author: Ruth Ware

Genre: Thriller

About the book: It’s a standalone novel following Hal Westaway who receives a letter about an inheritance, even though she isn’t the granddaughter of Mrs. Westaway. Hal finds herself attending the funeral of the deceased where she realizes there are many secrets surrounding the family.

First impressions: I’ve read Ware’s other novels, and I was curious about this one. I thought the story would just focus on the present, but the diary entries from the past added an interesting angle to the story.

Characters: There are some morally gray characters. I felt like the relationship dynamics between family members were unexpected in an interesting way. The book doesn’t have too many characters, so it was easy enough to remember everyone.

Quote:

“She had discovered that the most important truths often lay in what people didn’t say…”

Writing: I like when writers interweave the past and the present, and Ware does this well. Although the chapters aren’t too long, in my opinion, the plot takes a bit of time to develop. There are discussion questions and an interview with the author at the end of the book I read, which I enjoyed.

Final thoughts: The ending resolves the big mysteries while leaving some small questions unanswered. If you are a fan of contemporary thrillers with a dark, Gothic undertone, consider picking up The Death of Mrs. Westaway.


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