Book Review – Absolutely Barbados by Julian Armfield

Absolutely wonderful!

I first picked up this book from the pile under the TV in Tamarack, the beautiful apartment we have rented for our last three months in Barbados during The Time of Covid. It looked interesting and I made a mental note to read it when I had finished the three books I had on the go at the time (Alias Grace by Margaret Attwood, Cell by Stephen King, and Life after Life by Kate Atkinson).

I picked it up again and put the other three to one side for a few days, when I found out that it was written by the husband of the sister of our lovely landlady, Jane, who lives in the apartment downstairs with her equally lovely husband, Elton.

I absolutely devoured this book. What a wonderful read! Entertaining, informative and utterly engaging, it tells the story of – I quote – ‘one man’s mission to discover the heart and soul of [the] Caribbean Paradise’ that is Barbados. Believe me, he does!

Written in an upbeat and humorous anecdotal style, it provides the reader with an insight into the history, customs and culture of Barbados and it’s people, from the perspective of a middle-aged (sorry Julian) Englishman who made the island his home a few decades ago, when he met and married Jane’s sister, Sue.

I loved reading his colourful perspective and thoughtful insights on places and experiences that we were already familiar with, just as much as finding out about other things to do and places to go that were new to us. I learned things I didn’t know, I nodded in agreement with things I did, and laughed out loud, at least once every couple of pages, at the laser sharp accuracy of his observations, constantly interrupting M from his own reading to read him a paragraph or two that had us both in stitches.

As well as a hilarious succession of amusingly instructive anecdotes, the book provides facts and figures about the history of Barbados, the do’s and don’ts of living (or visiting) the island, some tips on how to ‘talk like a Bajan’, and the author’s ‘Magnificent 7’ beaches, wonders, views, attractions and recipes.

In addition to being crammed with funny stories and observations from Julian’s experiences in Barbados, the book is also peppered with ‘flashbacks’ and anecdotes from Julian’s travels around the world during his lengthy career as a BBC racing correspondent for the World Service, and his fond memories of his former life in a sleepy Berkshire village.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is planning to come to Barbados, has been before, or is already here. It literally has something for everyone!

The Kindle Edition of Absolutely Barbados is available on Amazon for £4.57.

I was only halfway through Absolutely Barbados, when, just last week we were honoured to be invited to join in the author’s birthday celebrations at Chicken Rita’s, with Sue and Jane and a few of their friends. It was strange to meet the author of a book I was reading, especially as it was a biography! Even though we had never met, I felt as if I already knew him. It was such a relief to discover that he was as funny, sweet and charming in real life as he was on the written page! It was also lovely to see how, even after all his years here, he is still completely infatuated with his Caribbean Paradise.

Book Review – Cell by Stephen King


I’m not really sure about this one. I’m a big Stephen King fan and, for me, The Stand is one of the best post-apocalyptic books I’ve ever read, and, in my opinion, one of King’s best novels. I read it first in my 20’s, and again in my 60’s. I never wanted it to end.

I was, therefore, excited to read Cell and, with my penchant for Zombie fiction, full of mouth-watering expectation.

I was a little disappointed.

I liked:

The whole first half of the book.

The fast-paced and utterly believable first few chapters.

The characters. My favourites were the adorable Tom, and the wonderfully smart, brave and resilient little Alice.

The premise that mobile phones will fry your brains and that said brains are basically very sophisticated computers.

The suspense, the fear, the horror – all up to King’s usual standards.

The marvellous metaphors – “His cock swung from side to side like the pendulum of a grandfather clock on speed.”

The disturbing (but probably accurate) view of human nature – “What Darwin was too polite to say, my friends, is that we came to rule the earth not because we were the smartest, or even the meanest, but because we have always been the craziest, most murderous motherfuckers in the jungle.”

I didn’t’ like:

The whole (unbelievable and nonsensical) second half of the book – pretty much from the appearance of the Raggedy Man onwards.

I just didn’t believe in what they were all doing and why. I didn’t understand the motives and actions of Clay and his friends and I didn’t understand the motives and actions of the “phone-people”.

It just wasn’t believable. You suddenly see your zombified ex-wife in the middle of 8,000 other zombies. You suddenly come across your zombified son, just sitting there, in the middle of nowhere, after he has miraculously survived the massacre of thousands of his kind. Really?

Compared to other King novels I have read and enjoyed; it all felt a bit thin. Unsatisfying.

I absolutely hated the ending. I thought it was lazy. I’d bloody well pushed through the unenjoyable second half to find out what had happened to Sharon and Johnny. I think he saw Sharon (but I wasn’t sure if he imagined it) and as for poor little Johnny – well! I felt cheated. I actually flicked back and forward on my Kindle in case I had missed a few pages – I couldn’t believe it! After all that? Stephen! How could you?

Book Review – The Terror by Dan Simmons

Epic, harrowing and glorious!

I came across this book when I did a bit of googling for a good horror read. It got some great reviews, so I thought I’d give it a go. It was complete coincidence that a dramatised version has recently been screened on the BBC.

At first, it seemed long, slow, overly technical, and descriptive, and frankly, a bit weird and boring. Basically, life in the navy in 1845, stuck in the Arctic with a big, scary monster.

I am SO glad I persisted. By the end, when it all came together beautifully, I absolutely loved it. So much so that I read the last chapters between 1 and 3am – I couldn’t put it down and I went to sleep with a warm fuzzy feeling and a satisfied smile on my face.

I didn’t like:

The first half when I was reading it – but I have long since got over that as the second half was outstanding and I get it now!

The excessively detailed descriptions of the ships and all the naval procedures and rules and regulations – again all is forgiven now – somehow the seemingly long drawn-out first half actually contributed to the epic nature of the story and the slow build to the dramatic conclusion.

The vast number of characters – I’ll be honest I lost track of who was who, and who died when and how – maybe Crozier’s rather anal, mental list-making of who had lived and who had died, rank by rank for both ships, as he hauled his sled across the ice for weeks on end, was a gift from the author to help us with that?

The disgustingly vivid descriptions of violent deaths, gruesome injuries, frost-bite, scurvy, filth and squalor and cannibalism. By nature of the fact that I didn’t like them, it is evident that they were well-written and provoked the desired response in the reader. I was looking for horror and I got it!

Honestly, now that I have finished, there wasn’t much I didn’t like about this book. I almost feel the need to read it all again.

I liked (loved):

The whole story and its wonderful conclusion.

The way it built up the sense of desperation and inevitable tragedy.

The way it all came together in the end and all the mysteries were explained.

That it was so much more than a horror. It was a historical novel, based on a true story. It was a horror story. It also had a touch of the mystical fantasy about it. It was a factual account of the features of an Arctic climate, the Eskimo culture and the navy in 1845. It was also a romance.

That it had a bit of everything! Madness, murder, sex (straight and gay), love, loyalty, courage, despair, death and disease, scurvy, botulism, suicide, traditional myths and stories, mystery, horror, cannibalism, nature and much, much more.

The *SPOILER ALERT* end. The happy, happy end!

I bloody loved this book. One of the best I have read during the Time of Covid!

Book Review – Feed by Mira Grant

Blogging and American Politics with Zombies.

Because I kind of enjoyed Into the Drowning Deep, I gave this a go. Zombies are much more my thing than Mermaids, and I love post-apocalyptic fiction in general, so I had high hopes for this one.

If I had taken a moment to try and remember why I started it a couple of years ago, but didn’t get past the first couple of chapters, I might have saved myself the disappointment.

But, let’s start with what I did like!

I did like the world that Grant created 20 years after the Zombie Apocalypse, where people had learned to live with the Zombie threat through segregation, bio-scans, rigid security protocols and “clean-up” procedures. I might go so far as to say I loved this aspect of the book.

I did like the main characters, even if they were a bit cliched and cheesy at times.

I did like the “believable” premise for the Zombie Apocalypse.

I did like the tight brother/sister relationship between the two main characters, that appeared gruff and narky on the surface, but was based on a deep and mutual, love and respect.

I did like the end. Not just because it meant I had managed to finish the book, but because it was surprising and actually quite moving.

I’m struggling to think of much else that I liked.

I didn’t like:

The story! It wasn’t about Zombies at all! It was about a load of young bloggers (who took themselves far too seriously in my opinion) and American politics (yawn). Essentially, it was a political “thriller”, set 20 years after a Zombie Apocalypse. If I’m honest, I felt a little conned.

The repetitive, and overly detailed, descriptions of screening procedures, blood tests, scans, security systems and “clean-up” operations.

The repetitive references to George’s eye problems and migraines, and Shaun’s continual desire to “poke dead things with sticks.”

For me, far, far, too much opiniated expositioning and info-giving, and not enough action.

I found the whole book very, very dry. Maybe, it was just me. Maybe, I’m just not serious enough. I read Zombie Apocalypse and post-apocalyptic fiction for fun. I read to be entertained, and sometimes moved. This just didn’t entertain me. I struggled to finish it. Thank goodness we had a bit of drama in the last few chapters. They helped to carry me through to the end.

Book Review – Z Notes by Shawn Lilly

Bill and Ted with Zombies!

(Contains spoilers!)

Reading and reviewing this book has been a genuinely interesting and learning experience for me. It has required me to examine my personal prejudices and biases about writing, as well as reconsider my criteria for what makes a good book.

And this is a good book! I enjoyed it far more than many books I have read by “successful” and established writers.

A huge factor for me, when making a judgement about a book, is what I refer to as the writing quality. Convention dictates that a “good” book should exhibit perfect grammar, spelling and punctuation. This book does not. The text is littered with spelling mistakes, incorrect and missing words, and various typographical errors that, at first, made me think I was not going to be able to read it.

But I persevered and was richly rewarded. Z Notes is a GREAT story!

It is book 2 in a series and picks up linearly from where the previous book ends and finishes at the point where the next will begin.

There is so much to like about Z notes:

  • The fast-moving, imaginative, and exciting plot. The author manages to create some real moments of tension that had me so on edge I found myself reading as fast as I could to find out what happened next.
  • The witty and authentic dialogue.
  • The brilliant characters – Matt and Frank remind me of a mix of Bill and Ted and Ben and Mickey from The Battery.
  • The humour that made me laugh out loud in parts.
  • The ZOMBIES! Oh, my goodness, we have fast ones, slow ones, big ones, small ones, blind ones, super-strong ones – we even have giant zombie crocodiles!
  • The romance – both of our protagonists have romantic interests, but poor Matt seems to have fallen for a girl who … let’s just say … is not really interested in an exclusive relationship.
  • The locations. One of the things I love reading (and writing about) is how familiar locations take on a new and unfamiliar feeling after the world has ended. I also like to entertain myself by imagining how different settings would lend themselves to the purpose of escape and evasion, or survival, in a Zombie Apocalypse. Z notes does this exceptionally well. Matt and Frank find themselves in a variety of different everyday settings and the author plays with how the features of these settings might come into play in a Zombie conflict scenario. We have a farm, a ballpark, a construction site, a multi-story car park, a train yard and many more.
  • The vivid and atmospheric scene setting and images.
  • The hilarious chapter titles – “Farm House e-i-e-i-o.”
  • The use of some excellent metaphors and descriptions:
    • “they could swear they heard the grass squeak under their feet.”
    • “you could hear a mouse peeing on cotton.”
    • “the smell of hot trash in summer.”

As well as all that, it has everything you would expect to find in any good Zombie tale, including gore, violence, heroism, and a wide variety of lethal weapons.

The ending was both intriguing, in terms of what they find on the other side of the fence, and shocking, when Matt finally gives Kimberly her comeuppance and an uncharacteristically brutal act of revenge.

I know it’s not the same, but when someone like Bernardine Evaristo writes without capitalisation and punctuation, she can call it prose poetic patterning and win a Booker Prize. I doubt that writers like Shawn and I could carry this off.

The debate about whether grammar and spelling are “elitist” rages on, and I don’t want to get into that here. Not do I want to make assumptions about the author of Z Notes, other than to say that it would be a sad day if a few issues with grammar, punctuation and spelling were to have prevented this highly entertaining story from being told.

Let me just end by saying that a good story is a good story and leave it at that!

Book Review – Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Stay in the Shallows!

I love swimming but the sea has always terrified me. I like to be able to see what’s beneath me and touch the bottom with my toes. After reading this, I’ll definitely never be venturing very far from shore again.
Grant has brilliantly and terrifyingly transformed the pretty little mermaids of fairy tales and Disney films into nightmarish, slimy, slithering monsters that will pursue you with unnatural speed and tear you apart with horrible mouths crammed full of pointed, razor-sharp teeth.
The book is well-written and easy to read, although the frequent use of clichés at the end of paragraphs to create added drama is a little irritating. “They didn’t. But then they never did.” “The screaming takes longer to end, but in time, it does. Everything ends.” etc.
The plot is gripping and compelling. It moves quickly and held my interest throughout.
The dialogue is authentic and witty. There were moments of humour that made me smile, if not actually laugh out loud, but I’m very difficult to please where comedy is concerned.
Although it was technically science fiction, the premise felt frighteningly believable.
There were some scenes that felt a little contrived and threatened the overall authenticity, such as when the protagonist falls into a sea boiling with hundreds of murderous sea creatures that have been killing everyone on sight but, for reasons that are not well-explained, choose to leave her unharmed. Really?
I liked the main characters and cared about what happened to them. I enjoyed the little romance between Tori and Olivia. However, it was impossible not to notice that people from every possible diversity group were represented in the cast; age, race, culture, nationality, physical and mental ability, sexual preference etc. etc. Very correct and appropriate of course, but maybe a little bit over the top for authenticity? Almost every character exhibited at least one of the UK 2010 Equal Opportunities Act “protected characteristics”.
For me, it all came to a rather rushed and unsatisfying conclusion. All of a sudden, the boat shutters come down, the mermaids are dying, the rescue boat arrives and all the survivors live happily ever after.

Book Review – The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray.

A thriller set in a dystopian future where the earth has stopped turning and one side of the word exists in permanent darkness and the other is perpetually light.

Honestly, this was a disappointing read.
I loved the premise but, for me, the book just didn’t deliver.
I had to force myself to read until the end.

I liked:
The idea.
The beginning – lots of intriguing questions and an introduction to the “big mystery” that was the central theme of the book.
I quite liked Hopper and her ex-husband David, although I never really got under his skin.
Glimpses of a potentially interesting dystopian future.
Some nice writing.

I didn’t like:
The fact that what I thought was going to be a thoughtful and interesting post-apocalyptic story, turned out to be a superficial, formulaic, spy thriller.
The predictability of the plot.
The big surprise reveals were not very big or surprising.
It was confusing that in this post-apocalyptic world, most of the main characters and their friends and families were living fairly normal lives in what looked and felt quite like our lives today, apart from a few exotic plants and animals thrown in for good measure, and some very effective blackout blinds. I found myself forgetting that we were in a world of perpetual light and sometimes it felt like the author did too.
Clunky writing was a distraction at times.
Very unbelievable and convenient plot developments.
A bit of a scatter gun approach was used to pepper the setting with post-apocalyptic window dressing.

Overall, it was dull and I “sped-read” to get it over with. I kept thinking about what I wanted to read next, and that was was what drove me to finish. An unexciting spy thriller dropped into an unconvincing post-apocalyptic world.

Sorry. I had such high hopes for this but I just didn’t enjoy it or believe it!

Book Review – Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

A thoughtful, gently nostalgic, beautifully written, before and after, journey through a post-apocalyptic world.

I loved this book!

I liked:
The way all the characters were connected and how beautifully it all came together in the end. Even though there were little clues and my suspicions grew as to who was connected to who and how, that was part of the enjoyment.
The writing style was unpretentious and it was an enjoyable and easy read, yet beautifully descriptive.
I liked, or at least felt empathy with, all the characters, even the bad guys, as they were all victims of their circumstances.
The plot held my interest and I wanted to keep reading to see what was going to happen next. I couldn’t put it down.
The more hopeful view of a post-apocalyptical world than we usually see in this genre. Although there had been violence and horror in the past, this seemed to be in the minority now, and people were, generally, kind and loving, and supportive and cooperative.
The positive view on human nature.
The fact that it had a bit of everything – action, romance, drama and science fiction.

I didn’t like:
Very little.
At times, I got slightly irritated when the story jumped back to a different character and their story in a different time and place when I was hooked in to the story unfolding in the previous chapter. However, this was part of what made the book such a good read!
It took me a while to get under the skin of some of the characters because we just got glimpses of them all at the start of the book, and there were so many of them. However, again, this was part of the structure of the book and all was revealed and made perfect sense in the end

An interview with Michael Andrews, author of Children of the Sun

J: We’re here today to celebrate and talk about your latest book, the last in the series of The Alex Hayden Chronicles, Children of the Sun. Let’s start by talking about that.

J: So, how does it feel to have finally, finished the last book in the Alex Hayden Chronicles?

 M: Mixed, to be honest. Relief, sadness, and excitement.

Relief that I’ve finally finished it. At one point three years ago, it looked as if it wasn’t going to happen due to a technical disaster when I was writing Dragonfire and almost lost all my work.

Sadness that a six-year chapter of my writing life is coming to an end.

Excitement about picking up other projects that have been on the back burner for a long time.

J: Are you happy with how it all ended, and do you think your readers will be?

M: Yes and no.

I’m happy with how the plot came together and how all the loose ends were tied in a very natural and un-contrived way. That should please my readers too.  

I was unsure whether I should have had just one more battle at the end, but I have said from the start that I didn’t want the series to become too Twighlightesque, so I am happy with how I left it.

 J: Is this definitely the end? Will we ever hear any more about Alex and his friends?

M: It is definitely the end of the story at that point in history in terms of the fantasy story. But there will always be opportunities for prequels in terms of revisiting Alex’s past life, given that he has lived for over 1000 years! This is something I have been asked about by my readers and is always an option. However, I have no current plans to this as I have already started working on my next project.

 J: The latest book, in my opinion, is the goriest of the series. The books are aimed at a young adult audience. How do you think this level of violence will sit with them, and possibly even their parents?

M: I knew this might come up. Young adults for me are mid-teen and upwards. I believe much of the violence is left to the imagination of the reader and that this is not the same as seeing it on a screen, be that in a movie or a computer game. I don’t think it is any worse that the violence young people would be exposed to in the average 15 rated movie or computer game. It adds vital authenticity to the character of Alex – he is a vampire after all!

Besides, most of my long terms fans that take the trouble to reach out to me tend to be over 18 in fact. You could argue that the series seems to appeal more to a more mature audience than the typical young adult cohort.

J: I noticed a hidden reference to the village that we both live in in the Children of the Sun, and some of the characters are strangely familiar. Is this my imagination, or are you deliberately giving a secret nod to people and places that you know in your books?

M: From when I first started writing, friends who reading my books often asked if they could be represented in them. So, I do give some of my characters the names of people I know, but not necessarily their personalities. Because there are a lot of characters in the series, this technique helps me to keep track of them all.

With regard to the familiar “location”, I have always wanted a character to be placed away from Blackpool in a different type of environment. It was a playful act on my part to decide to locate one in my own village.

 J: Some of your characters have very unusual names. How do you select the names of your characters?

M: There are a few in particular that I think you might be referring to. Y’cart, is a friend’s name spelt backwards and Rivkah Picar is actually my editors name in different languages, I often google names to find ones that are relevant for period and place. For example, Clothar Pfaff is a Germanic name that means priest and Eirwen was a name I just liked that popped up on one of these searches.

J: The Alex Hayden Chronicles is a very complex story with multiple characters and plot-lines that twist and turn throughout the series. Did you always know how it would end and how all the characters would relate to each other (I’m trying to avoid any spoilers here), or did you just let it unfold as it went along?

M: I knew most of the big things.  I wrote the end of the series while I was writing the first book, Under A Blood Moon and I always know the beginning and end of each book. Everything in between is just a journey that unfolds as the characters react to events. I love these journeys with my characters. That is the most enjoyable and fun part of writing for me.  

J: Is that how you write in general? Letting the plot develop rather than having it all planned out at the beginning?

M: Yes. It allows me to introduce minor threads and characters that may not have appeared if I had plotted out every detail. One of the most loved characters form my debut novel, For the Lost Soul, only appears as an afterthought in an early chapter.

J: Clearly, this is a young adult SFF series. Is this the only genre that you work in? Would you ever consider writing for the adult SFF market?

M: Although I have written in other genres, I definitely have a leaning towards fantasy and the paranormal. For the Lost Soul, is actually aimed at a slightly older audience. It wouldn’t be suitable for anyone under the age of 15. Coincidentally, I am currently working on a sequel to For the Lost Soul, with plans for a trilogy. I also have other adult paranormal projects on the back-burner.

J: Now some questions about you.

J: When did you first want to be writer and what inspired you?

M: I was 14 and a GCSE English assignment was to write the start of a novel. A TV series at the time (1985) called V was my inspiration.  My novel was a version of the V story that was set in the UK. I have written ever since and always dreamed of publishing. The Amazon self-publishing platform helped me to turn dream into a reality

J: What do you like to read and who are your favourite authors?

M: I like fantasy and Science Fiction, particularly stories with mythical twists. My favourite authors are Raymond E Feist (Magician), David Eddings (The Belgariad), Matthew Reilly (Jack West Series) and Orson Scott Card (Enders Game).

J: What is the first book that made you cry?

M: Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E Feist and The Unlikely Ones by Mary Brown

J: What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?

M: Fairie Tale by Raymond E Feist

J: Have you got any themes and messages that you want to get across in your writing?

M: I mostly write for pleasure. Writing for me is simply an enjoyable creative release form my very factual day job as a Business Analyst.

However, bullying, and self-harm and suicide prevention in young people are subjects that are important to me and I have written about them. My poetry collection, The Empty Chair, has an anti-bullying theme.

J: What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

M: On a trip to London I visited St Paul’s Cathedral and asked to have access to the private chapel where two of my characters in the For the Lost Soul meet for the first time. I was given special access to the room and was so moved and excited that, later that evening, I messaged Raymond E. Feist to ask him if he had ever had a similar experience. He said he had but never one as exciting as mine!

J: What is your writing Kryptonite?

M: The telly.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

M: I am a member of a small group of fellow writers called JAMS Publishing. As well as working together to support other aspiring writers, we also meet once a month where we read and critique a short piece we have prepared based on a specific prompt. We give each other regular feedback and support with all our projects and have worked on some joint ones.

J: So, what’s next for Michael Andrews? What’s your next book going to be about and when can we expect it?

M: I am currently focusing on completing the Writers Bureau Creative Writing course to help me to hone my skills and further improve the quality of my writing. I am also working on the sequel to For the Lost Soul, A Soul Reclaimed. I don’t want to put myself under pressure to set a deadline to complete this. I just want to allow myself to enjoy the journey.  

However, I will have a special surprise for Alex fans around about Christmas time.

The Children of the Sun is available on Amazon at £2.99 for the Kindle version and £8.99 for the paperback.







Book Review – Children of the Sun by Michael Andrews.

Children of the Sun is the fifth and final book in The Alex Hayden Chronicles, which follow the adventures of Alex, a thousand year-old teenage vampire who is caught between his past as a notorious vampire warrior and his present as a reformed character and adopted nephew of Harry, a modern day police officer in Blackpool.

Children of the Sun is a fitting end to the Alex Hayden Chronicles. The plot ties up all the loose ends in a satisfying way but still manages to introduce some surprising new developments and exciting twists and turns.

Everything that is in the other books in the series is there and more. Children of the Sun is an easy read and a great mix of fantasy and modern-day crime fiction. It contains well-developed and likable characters, an intricate and intriguing plot, fast-pace and excitement, humour and irreverence and a hint of romance.

In Children of the Sun, we are reunited with all our favourite characters and yet more aspects to their personalities and backstories are revealed. We physically meet some characters for the first time and come face to face with some new and terrifying monsters.

For those in the know, there is a nod to some locations that are, shall we say, very familiar to the author and his friends.

While we were introduced to the darker side of Alex in The Cauldron of Fire and Dragonfire, The Children of the Sun takes this to another level and it is by far the most violent and disturbing book in the series. But, if JK Rowling can do it, then why can’t Michael Andrews?

Every time I start one of these reviews by saying this is not my usual reading genre but I loved it, and Children of the Sun is no different. I romped through it in half a day and was left with a contented soul and a smile on my face. I thoroughly enjoyed getting lost in Alex’s world for a few hours and am more than a little sad to be saying a final farewell to him and his cronies!