Book Review: ‘The Short Stories of Loretta Leslie’

5-stars for ‘The Short Stories of Loretta Leslie’


1 Called to Account

Loretta Leslie’s opening short story, Called to Account, is an amusing play on the evolution debate. It’s gently sarcastic, intentionally ambiguous, and craftily conceals the author’s personal stand. There’s no heavy religious rant here. Just a writer addressing a serious issue with a great sense of humour. Love it.

Loretta LeslieWhen Charles, we find a bit after the opening it’s Charles Darwin, is called upon in the afterlife to account for his Earthly activities, he will face difficult questions. And he’ll perform admirably even while addressing the omnipotent, omniscient I AM That I AM. (The Almighty – maybe)

The dialogue is clever, the wit laudable and the touch on such a delicate issue is crafty and almost mischievous.

What I liked most, was the way the author described the Eternal being, I AM. Witty, casual and with a precocious sense of humour. About mankind, and himself. (Why-oh-why must organised religion present God as dark, intransigent, mysterious and gloomy?)

I also liked the nifty twist at the end which gives just a hint of the author’s true stance on the creation vs evolution, religion vs science, oh-so-tiresome-and-weary argument.

Read the very end of this one 2x.

2 Super Heroes Bad Day

The Supers are back. This time arguing over chocolate, (But not really) human reluctance to tackle and solve global warming (Really) and ultimately being called upon, yet again, to save the world.

I just love the satirical nature of this piece and applaud Ms Leslie for using “supers” to present her argument that humans have such a thin grasp on reality, and such tragically misguided priorities it’d be laughable if it weren’t so pathetic.

3 And So Ended the Day of Men

A crafty little reproach of man’s short-sightedness and egotism. Also his unwarranted, convenient and often creative idealism.

In this clever short, the author takes an environmentalist poke in a nifty dialogue between strip miners over a book of Prophecies.

The slight is rational, thinly veiled and flippant. Also humorous. If we are to assume prophecies are inescapable, as Ms Leslie’s thesis goes, then what’s the point in the debate? Or, what’s point in even considering the debate. It’s a done deal. There is no debate. Board the bloody transports once we’ve trashed this planet and hope like hell we find another one we can trash.

This piece resonated with me as it underlines how ludicrous and moronic we are when we use shallow, convoluted arguments to submit ourselves to a rationalised doctrine or political platform i.e. “Our position is well supported, rational and justified, we just need a little time to slice, dice, mince and mash a few details that will provide the adequate support, rationale and justification for what it is we’re already doing – probably, ideally and most assuredly for profit and gain.”


Summary and Recommendation:

It’d be difficult, I believe, to name someone who enjoys clever satire more than I do. These three pieces are gems. Five stars and my highest recommendation.


Review by T.E. Mark – Author

You can find Loretta Leslie’s trio of short stories at:




Book Review: ‘Welcome to the Apocalypse – Book Three – Primal Scream,’ by DL Richardson

5-stars for “Welcome to the Apocalypse – Book Three – Primal Scream” by DL Richardson



“Somehow he’d found beauty in the darkness the way the Nexis had.”

This clever, meaningful passage is just one of the many that, in my mind, make the third, concluding book in the Welcome to the Apocalypse trilogy by D L Richardson stand out Apocalypse_3from the plethora of books in this genre.

Coupling the powerful writing with her almost unrivalled ability to place vivid images of her post-apocalyptic landscape in the minds of her readers, Ms Richardson, in her closing episode, has conquered two obstacles inherent in this sub-genre of Science Fiction.

She grasps the reader on an emotional level, an absolute must in all storytelling, and facilitates your seeing this ravaged, nightmarish world through the eyes of her characters.

But the world Ms Richardson creates here isn’t entirely bleak. This is a mistake I’ve noted novice writers make regularly and veteran writers do as well. A 300-page novel or two-hour film of constant gloom is hard on readers or an audience. The journey becomes a despondent slide rather than a roller coaster with occasional bright moments.

Ms Richardson cleverly relieves tension and lightens the mood through story granting the reader an optimistic view of a possible positive outcome. A survival. A new reality, certainly, but one that seems almost acceptable.

I’ll include no spoilers with this review as the writer wove a neatly organised story which included numerous twists making the read that much more compelling.

I will, however, include three additional passages I found meaningful to the story that also sparkle with imagination. As a writer and omnivorous reader, I am a huge fan of strong, often poetic, writing. DL Richardson offers up a generous assortment of well-written, profound lines that made reading this book enjoyable.


“Staring across the open land, Reis viewed the bleak grey skies that joined the land below like a blanket to choke them with longing.”  

“Sasha was aware of her existence but not of her death.”

“History had countless blueprints of failure, inked with the blood of overconfident men.”

Well-done, Ms Richardson.

What I liked most:


I’ve now read and reviewed this entire series. In it, DL Richardson did something I consider praiseworthy and rare. She did not recycle ideas. This book, specifically, presents a full menu of fresh settings,  scenarios, action sequences and twists.

I have a library full of books, sequels, I attempted reading but abandoned once I realised the writer was recycling and repackaging ideas they’d delivered in the previous book or books.

Story ensemble:

This is an ensemble piece with three, often four different, intertwined scenarios happening simultaneously. I like this type of story design and applaud authors who can pull it off without confusing the reader.

I had no difficulty following the varying paths laid out by the author.


As stated above, I’m a huge fan of powerful writing. Strong lines, like the examples I’ve included, make reading, for me, fun. Ms Richardson is a powerful writer – obviously someone well-read. Her well-crafted, meaningful lines are abundant and never seem cumbersome or contrived.



Only one, and nothing that would lessen my 5-Star rating or high recommendation.

Ms Richardson included many characters in this piece. This can challenge the reader. I did, at times, find myself reading back to reacquaint myself with a specific character and their significance to the story.

Faster readers and readers who aren’t typically reading two to three books simultaneously would probably not experience this difficulty.

Summary and Recommendation:

Welcome to the Apocalypse – Primal Scream (Book 3) is a fast-moving Science Fiction adventure with imagination, heart, slick dialogue, a nice dose of sentimentality and above all, clever writing.

I give the closing instalment of DL Richardson’s Welcome to the Apocalypse series 5-Stars and my highest recommendation.

Review by TE Mark – Author.

Book Review: ‘Kiss Me When I’m Dead,’ by Dominic Piper

5-Stars for ‘Kiss Me When I’m Dead,’ By Dominic Piper


‘Slick and Captivating’

Kiss Me When I’m Dead, by Dominic Piper, may well be the smartest crime tale I’ve read to date. It’s not only compelling, it’s craftily compelling as the author used his literary Kiss Me When I'm Deadskills and story-telling abilities with masterful precision.

Chapters are planned out, obviously outlined, and delivered like a film script with the obstacles and intentions clearly recognisable. This is the sign of a veteran writer. Also, I’d say, someone who may have written in the film or TV industry. The chapters begin on the beat and often end with a slick teaser enticing, almost commanding you to read on.

The dialogue is real, smooth, and the narration (PI Daniel Becket’s first-person accounting) is strong and clever.

As a novelist and screenwriter, I found so much right with this book it’s difficult for me to elaborate on the neat devices Mr Piper used with such fluency without sounding like a lecturer in a class on Literary Criticism.

If you follow my reviews, you’ll notice I’ve chosen, with this book, to abandon my typical format. I’ve done so as to avoid surrendering spoilers. With a mystery / crime investigation story such as this, with numerous creative twists, I felt I’d be doing the reader and author a potential disservice.

I will say, however, that Daniel Becket’s investigation into the disappearance of a wealthy weapons dealer’s daughter, will take him deep into a very diabolical world where he, and you the reader, will draw conclusions of what’s coming next, feel certain you’re right, then dispense with them when something unexpected evolves.

This, in itself, makes Kiss Me When I’m Dead an outstanding read.

What I liked most:


One can usually tell when a story has been outlined. The scenes are often more precise. They have conflict, and as I described above, clearly identifiable intentions and obstacles.

Mr Piper shows his literary prowess by offering scenes that are miniature stories. This is the quality of a crafty, veteran writer.


Mr Piper’s characters are believable, adequately described, and don’t all sound the same. But above all, and more importantly, they’re interesting.

Becket, though the least described physically, comes to life through his first-person narration. He’s talented, confident, slick, great with women (They seem to hit on him wherever he turns) driven and competent.

He’s the consummate hero we guys all want to be. Ethical, moral, resourceful, driven to succeed and smooth with attractive women drawn to him as if by gravity or magnetism.

The sexual theme

Mr Piper obviously wanted this to be a sexy crime investigation story and wrote it quite well. The sexual theme is strong, sensual at times, not overly explicit for this genre, and never overwhelms the main theme. Someone evil may have done something bad to a young girl who, for various reasons, has found herself in a dangerous, often degrading lifestyle.


I have none. This story held my attention as much as any book I’ve read this year. Actually more!

Summary and Recommendation:

Kiss Me When I’m Dead is a clever mystery, crime investigation story with a carefully handled, well-executed sexual theme. The world in which PI Daniel Becket must delve is prostitution, and, as in real life, one can expect that some of the players are nice, and some are not.

Without hesitation, I give Kiss Me When I’m Dead 5-stars and my highest recommendation.


Review by TE Mark – Author.

Book Review: ‘The Elf Killers,’ by Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

5-Stars for ‘The Elf Killers,’ by Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps


‘Boundless Imagination’

The Elf Killers, by Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps, is a finely crafted tale set in a vivid fantasy world filled with constant menace. It’s a landscape brimming with danger and a vast assortment of mythical creatures. Elves, Trolls, Sprites and Unicorns glow theElf Killers pages along with a few ingenious creations I imagined finding in a book of Greek myths. (Homer would have applauded the Strike Falcons.)

While reading this story of a colony of elves, cleverly described with a bevy of human qualities, racing to find an elusive refuge from the savage trolls who hunt them for slaughter, I initially appraised it as just another magical creature story.

But it’s more.

As I read on, I found the authors had smartly knitted together a tale of how our environment and the varying circumstances we’ve been handed shape and define us.

As a lioness hunts antelope in Sub-Saharan Africa to feed its young, or a bear pulls majestic salmon from a river in Oregon, the trolls are neither malicious nor despicable. They’re simply a product of an evolutionary path in a world where their existence requires them to hunt an available prey.

The story is also about bonding as the elves work together to escape the predators or when they make a valiant stand and fight.

The elf characters were extremely well-developed. Courageous against a more formidable foe, loyal to their immediate families and to everyone in their tribe, compassionate, and endearing. Romances bud when their flight to safety slows. Caring parents display deep affection for their children, pride in their accomplishments, and despair for the ones they’d failed to save.

The pace is fast without being frenetic and only slows during times of story development.

What I liked most:

Character development.

The authors were diligent with their creation of believable, compelling fantasy characters mirroring with them a wide assortment of human qualities: Courage – compassion – fear – aggression – weakness – honour – loyalty and strength.

As with all good fantasy writing, while reading Elf Killers, at some point I was able to release that logical part of me that knew these were fictional, magical creatures and began seeing them as real. I attached myself to their plight and empathised with them for their fears and losses.

This is an ability that we, as adults, lose that children possess in abundance and do instinctively. (An unfortunate loss indeed.)

Story design:

The outline is logical, fits a neat three-act structure and builds and releases tension with precision. Early on, I began imagining this as the basis of a screenplay for a fine animated film. “The genius writers at Pixar would do wonders with this story.”


Only one, and nothing that would lessen my 5-Star rating or a high recommendation.

There were many characters with unique names. This made the story confusing at times. I found myself reading back at points to reacquaint myself with someone who’d been introduced earlier wishing to place them into context. A faster reader, also someone not typically reading three to four books at one time, may not suffer this confusion.

Summary and Recommendation:

Elf Killers is a fast-moving Fantasy / Adventure with a ton of heart and boundless imagination. If called upon to classify it, I would place it on the same shelf as the first two Harry Potter books and the Percy Jackson books. Essentially a Young Adult read that will also satisfy an adult who enjoys letting go and consuming middle-grade fiction.

I give The Elf Killers 5-Stars and my highest recommendation.


Review by TE Mark – Author.

Book Review: ‘Floodtide,’ by Helen Claire Gould

4 ½ Stars for ‘Floodtide,’ by Helen Claire Gould


With so many novels presented as pure Science Fiction venturing frivolously, often flagrantly into the world of fantasy, and a vast assortment of Fantasy tales employing Science Fiction plot devices, here’s a story which weaves a precise, steady path right down the middle of these two fiction genres.

The author offers a reasonable amount of credible science, in this case, astronomy, geology and volcanology, to make the story plausible, and mixes it with unimpeded Floodtidefantasy making it rich, creative, colourful and heartening.

It’s a story with action, adventure, well-developed, likeable characters, deep sentimentality and numerous parallels to our own 21st-century existence.

With an ocean of creativity, an almost perfectly developed, logically arranged plot, Ms Gould has delivered a winning piece guaranteed to please readers of Science Fiction and Fantasy Adventure.


[Warning: Spoilers ahead]

Human astronomers stationed on the planet Goranon have discovered life on an outer planet. As passive observers, they watch these somewhat primitive humanoids divided into two rival tribes, aware that their planet, Naxada, is in peril and that the gently furred creatures living underground in lava tubes must be relocated, or they will die. They devise a rescue plan. It’s tense, there are many unknowns, and the time frame is critical and will involve contact with the one agrarian tribe and the other hunter-gatherer tribe.

As the author introduces us to the main characters of the ‘somewhat’ primitive creatures, who are, in many ways, quite advanced with a fascinating array of tribal rituals [The author has a wonderful imagination] she simultaneously introduces us to the human astronomical team and their personal stories.

The shifting of the story between the humans and the Naxadans is done expertly and is never clumsy, distracting or confusing.

The author is careful not to overwhelm the reader with too many character introductions at one time, and she maintains each character’s identity throughout.

Besides the main plot, the author seamlessly weaves in numerous side stories that work to further define her characters and their personal goals and motivations. And like a patchwork quilt, the side stories, like individual threads, are relevant to and buttress the main story – the plight of the Naxadans and the desperate initiative of their human saviours.

[What I liked most]

Character development: The author employed an arsenal of literary devices to ensure that her readers not only care for but like her main characters. She literally reaches out from the binding, grabs you by the arms, shakes you violently and commands that you feel for these creatures during their flight to safety.

Clever and inspiring writing.

Creative detail: The tribal customs, rituals, names and even the physical features of the Naxadans are extremely imaginative. Ms Gould worked hard on this element of her work and did a praiseworthy job.

The science: The author did an extensive amount of research for this novel, and/or has a background in Volcanology, Astrophysics, or Astronomy. Either way, the inclusion added much to the story and helped it skim that narrow line between Sci-Fi and Fantasy.


Two: Minor

I felt the Naxadans were, in ways, too human for an alien civilisation. But then, I have this same criticism of virtually every book I’ve read or film I’ve seen involving alien civilisations. I gave Hyperion by Dan Simmons a 4-Star review for the same reason, and I’m one of the few who saw the blockbuster film Avatar, [I loved it BTWsaw it two nights in a row, both times in 3d] as cowboys and Indians in outer space with amazing special effects.

The second criticism is certainly a personal preference. Some people like 90k to 100k word novels and some, like me, especially in the Sci-Fi / Fantasy genre, tend to like books a little shorter. 60k to 70k word novels, with all I have to read each month, tend to fit my schedule a bit more comfortably.

For these two, minor, reasons I give Floodtide a 4.5-Star rather than a 5-Star rating.


A very, very high recommendation. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading Science Fiction or Fantasy / Adventure novels.

I read this book in a digital format for this review but am looking forward to the delivery of my print version. This is a book I’d like in my library. One I will definitely read again.

Review by T. E. Mark – Author


Book Review: ‘The Man in the Black Fedora,’ by Tom Johnson

4.5 Stars for ‘The Man in the Black Fedora,’ by Tom Johnson


Wrap a mysterious vigilante with a unique gift in an intriguing crime story with plenty of underworld hoodlums terrorising innocent people and you have a winning plot.

Add to that mix, a cast of believable, likeable characters, a swift and steady pace [this story never drags] and the result is not only a compelling story, but a fun one.

[Warning: Spoilers ahead]

The Man in the Black Fedora opens like a Hollywood screenplay with the authorThe Man in the Black Fedora dropping you right in the middle of the action. ‘You have to love books that grab you from the opening page. This one does!’

Kay Shannon, a 22-year-old nightclub entertainer, witnesses her boss dealing drugs with gangsters and is suddenly on the run.

Cornered, and moments from losing her life on a bridge, her White Knight saviour arrives in the form of a man in a black Fedora with his vigilante squad. The rescue is swift, and Kay is recruited.

From there, the story winds through a series of events including a rare and invaluable art heist, the murder of a pair of innocent shopkeepers, and a neighbourhood falling under the intimidation of a diabolical gang of ruthless hoodlums.

The author also, cleverly, employs some praiseworthy character development, and further elaborates on several mysteries, including the identity of the main vigilante, The Man in The Black Fedora.

The mysteries, there are several, build throughout, giving this story a nice appeal. When one is solved, the author quickly shifts to another never allowing the pace to falter.

The mobsters are vile, corrupt and murderous and well-deserving of the justice ahead. The vigilantes are good, decent and driven by a lust to see the streets safe and the good people protected beyond what the police can facilitate.

In writing the above, and while reading, I continually had the feeling I was in the midst of a script of a Batman film. And there are elements of that in the story. For someone who thoroughly enjoyed the recent Batman films, this made The Man in The Black Fedora even more gratifying.

[What I liked most]

Character development: The author was thorough with his descriptions, both of their physical appearance and of their motivations. I was able to visualise them. This is an intrinsic element in good story telling and Mr Johnson did a fine job.

Mysteries: For someone who has read every story Arthur Conan Doyle ever wrote, more than a few times, this is a formula guaranteed to satisfy my literary desires.


One: I felt the author released the identity of the Man in the Black Fedora a bit early thus losing the opportunity for that final twist. It would have been nice, in my opinion, if it was left until the very end, or not released at all. This would have left the reader guessing and possibly set the stage for a sequel.


I give this a Very High recommendation. Though missing any great profundity, it’s good vs evil – light vs dark, the imagination is laudable, and I so liked the author’s creativity when depicting the rare gift the vigilante boss employed and how he used it against the underworld villains. The Man in the Black Fedora makes no claim that it is more than a fun mystery / adventure. And it satisfies all the requirements of that genre.

I enjoyed it to the very last page.

Review by T. E. Mark – Author


Book Review: ‘Twiggles Bound’ by Louise Pohl

41/2 Stars for ‘Twiggles Bound,’ by Louise Pohl


Suspend, in fact, expel your imagination for this creative Fantasy / Adventure with a nice side of Science Fiction.

Sci-Fi, in lit or film, typically reaches a point where it crosses that fine line and ventures into the realm of fantasy. Time Travel – Advanced alien civilisations – Traversing interstellar space and time via wormholes, etc.

Twiggles Bound, by Louise Pohl, interestingly does the opposite.

Here is a pure fantasy tale, replete with a witch in the form of a sweet, sensitive girl, a Twiglers Boundtelepathic dog who is actually an alien from a distant galaxy, Trolls, and an incredibly powerful magic wand, to name a few incidentals, that just happens to cross that line into the world of Science Fiction. [Genetic mutation, radioactive fallout and a robot army are a mere smattering of the Science Fiction devices found in Twiggles Bound.]

And to top things off, Ms Pohl’s effort was distinctly meritorious.

[Warning: Spoilers ahead]

The world has been ‘mostly’ destroyed following a meteorite strike at a nuclear power plant, ‘remote probability, but feasible, right?’ and Earth’s remaining population is now divided between zombies and rapidly mutating Halflings. [Humans that are typically good natured and seldom, if ever, have a taste for human flesh,]

So far so good, as they say, and a fine setting for a good Sci-Fi yarn.

Enter Mike, a young, resourceful and richly idealistic Halfling who could very probably find brightness in the deepest darkest tunnel or mineshaft, and his devoted dog Twiggles. And Cherry, a young and deeply sensitive Gypsy, her preferred title over Witch, and her equally devoted cat Gompie.

Following their accidental discovery of a baby in a gutted bunker, and Twiggles’ ill-advised, albeit fortunate, feeding on Zombie flesh, the story makes a rapid departure from Sci-Fi into the realm of Fantasy / Adventure

As the delightful couple, and their pets, set out for safety, they will encounter the story’s excessively wicked, delightfully vile antagonist, the evil Dr Knarf, who, with his army of genetically mutated dogs, and determined plan to take over the world, as is in this case, is the embodiment of all evils.

Twiggles Bound, is bounding with energy, imagination, charm, likeable characters and wit.

From Twiggles repeatedly scolding Mike for his wandering thoughts about how beautiful Cherry is, [No jealousy here, there’s just a bit too much going on right now for romance pal] to Dr Karf’s vociferous outbursts, such as:

“Gibbles, with my evil Goo Gum army, and the vicious dogs, nobody will be able to defeat me. I’m going to rule this world, while making it miserable and evil.”


“Who is down here, and who dares disturb my evil sleep? When I find you, I’m going to use you for my warped experiments. I also intend to do nasty things to you, so come out and make my day.”

 And so on. [Okay, I admit freely that Dr Knarf was my favourite character in the story.]


This is a warm, entertaining, fanciful and heartening tale which delineates and elaborates on the brightness and darkness within people. It also touches, delicately, on the issue of the fragility of our planet from advancing technology.

With all the author put into this story, I could go on and on describing the intergalactic space travel, the collection of an infinitely powerful wand from a distant planet, the radiation eating Goo Gums, a robot army, an underground palace, and the final battle. But, I do believe I’ve reached my spoiler limit for this review.


Minor, and purely technical which made this a 41/2 rather than a 5-star review.

Chapter Length: Twiggles Bound, I believe, is mainly intended for young readers for whom shorter chapters are more appropriate.

Explanations: Again, for the younger readers, I believe better explaining Genetic Mutation, Radiation, and Accelerated Evolution due to radioactive fallout would have been prudent.


Did I like this book and would I recommend it?

The answer to both questions is a big, resounding yes.

Twiggles Bound was craftily written for young and mature readers. It makes a profound moral statement which neither dominates nor detracts from the story. It’s both simple and complex, credit the author for the neat balancing act, making it an ideal read for the entire family.

And if you’re an animal lover, which this author so undoubtedly is, you will love Twiggles Bound.

Review by T.E. Mark – Author


Book Review: ‘Stories of an Awkward Size’

Five Stars for ‘Stories of an Awkward Size,’ by Jonathon Swords-Holdsworth


So, how does one approach reviewing a book of five imaginative, unique, intrinsically different and exceptionally well-written short stories?

This question germinated when I finished the second story and was in full bloom Stories of an Awkward Sizemidway through the fourth.

Chucking my typical format, I believe I will, relying on my own instincts and imagination, just have to ‘Wing it!’

‘Stories of an Awkward Size,’ by Mr Swords-Holdsworth, may not only be the best book I’ve read by a contemporary fiction writer, it may also be the best compilation of shorts I’ve read to date.

The author blends his superb writing style with his equally vivid imagination and tosses in the perfect serving of credible science and technology [The writer obviously has a background in a tech field] that makes each story resound with a thumping bass line of plausibility.


[Warning: Spoilers ahead!]

‘The Black Prince.’ Story one.

Henri Roseboro’s marriage ended three months earlier. He ruminates on the sour feeling he now has for his house. Directionless, and disconsolate, he ventures into his alley where he encounters the shadow apparition of Rufus, a long deceased cat, on a Graf Wall, a white anti-graffiti stretch of masonry, in his alley.

The apparition of the cat consumes Henri as it responds to him as he passes – as he approaches – as he attempts to communicate with it, first with visual gestures, and later with direct Wi-Fi communication via a tablet computer and an obscure terminal buried within the wall.

His research will bring him to Viktor, a neighbour, his son Erik, and an elegant story of the wall’s designer, Alley Ellie, who, he concludes, may have designed Rufus.

There is also a tale of an unsolved crime which Rufus may have observed, adding to the mystery and allure, but, as this part is integral to the story, I’ve chosen to omit it from my review.

‘The Black Prince’ is nearly flawless. The detail is laudable, and the author’s stylistic writing is inspiring.

‘Mr Devries’ Red Bowler Hat.’ Story two.

It’s difficult, in my mind, to assert an argument with an imaginative story that opens with, ‘I died.’

This, in my opinion, was the author’s attempt at writing a story guaranteed to bend the minds of even the well-seasoned hard Science Fiction readers.

Jon dies in an automobile accident, then wakes and meets Gwenn who died falling from a balcony. Together they meet Tom who has also recently perished. Then, of course, they meet a road which takes them to, where else, ‘The Conference Centre.’

[I mean, where were you thinking you’d end up after this life-on-Earth thing wound down?]

From there, the author delivers up a brilliant and creative smorgasbord of mind-rattling fantasy, surreal imagery, and afterlife hypotheticals.

From ‘The Numbers,’ who endlessly walk the Conference Centre’s grounds, to ‘The Quiet,’ the purported afterlife’s boundaries, to Mr Devries himself who, as it will turn out, may have this entire afterlife ‘Realm’ manifesting in his mind.

And there’s oh so much more. Including some of the cleverest, albeit modestly abstruse, dialogue I’ve yet found in a fiction work.

Here is one example [I highlighted 20 passages as I read] of the author’s writing prowess.

“Four-hundred years passed. Yes, I know that sounds flippant, but there really isn’t much about that era to report.”

“Well…. Ok. Maybe a few things.”


This one story would make the book a worthy purchase if the others were complete rubbish. They aren’t!

‘Come Silent Winged Sleep.’ Story three.

In story three, the author shifts gears and takes us into a crime investigation with elements of an Arthur Conan Doyle mystery.

Detective Andrew Mahoney witnesses a military grade drone missile strike that takes down a hotel casino. Was it terrorism? If so, why that hotel and why was the determined target the 31st floor?

And, as they will later discover, why were two city councillors and a local media tycoon meeting with the minister for air safety? On the 31st floor?

This story goes deep into drone technology, special interest groups, and an undisclosed entity, or organisation, [This part is left unclear – intentionally] with unthinkable power wielding it for some assumed greater good.

Spectacular writing –superb pace – plausible plot, and, again, just enough science and technology to make the story real and compelling.

‘The Ghost of Magritte.’ Story four.

As this was my favourite story of the book, and one I would label a ‘Must Read’ to anyone, I will trim my review as to avoid spoilers.

Fiction writing, in my opinion, doesn’t get much better than this.

The theme is enhanced VR (Virtual Reality) experimentation, and the company is called Pacific Dwarf, and some test subjects are having disastrous residual effects causing them to blur the line between actual and artificial reality.

The author, in story four, ‘The Ghost of Magritte,’ reaches into the world of mind science and something AI designers have termed Phenomenal Consciousness, and pulled out a thought provoking winner.

‘Elsewhere,’ the VR world, essentially a construct, is un-real, but, at which point does the mind decide what is real? And, if our minds have the ability to create reality out of the un-real, will we one day see reality as something producible, or in this case, programmable?

Will reality one day evolve into something flexible? Less defined? Less definite?

Great, great story.

This one scores slightly above my highest recommendation. Read it!

 ‘The Thousand Yard Stare.’ Story five.

The subject, in story five, is the quest for longevity, and, in a sense, immortality.

Though my least favourite of the five, this story, with admirable depth, touches on the questions that have plagued mankind from the Sumerians and Egyptians to the 17th century European alchemists who searched, inexorably, for the elusive ‘Elixir of life.’ Why do we age? And, is there a way to reverse the process thus making us essentially immortal beings?

Here, in ‘The Thousand Yard Stare,’ we have technology replacing Egyptian mummification and misguided 17th century Alchemy in the form of manually imprinting cellular technology and 3d cellular printing.

People are having tissue, skin, organs and their skeletal structures re-layered. And, as a result, reversing the aging process.

The author also does something rather crafty, and decidedly clever. He touches on the potential societal and political consequences. People are living longer. How many people can the Earth support? Tolerate?

With so many elderly people (Voters) hanging around, how will this affect the political climate?

And what about the young? What will their response to this development be as they see themselves at a potential disadvantage?

As I stated in my preface, this story may have the most depth and relevance to our present world environment. There are also some rather clever twists near the end with one that put an almost painful grin on my face.


Brilliant selection of stories. Almost phenomenally imaginative and the author’s style is, as I stated earlier, unrivalled by the current authors I’ve read.


Remarkably, I have not a single one.


Buy the hard copy. This is a book you’ll want in your library as you WILL be reading it multiple times. I’m currently rereading it myself. This time just for fun!

Review by T.E. Mark – Author


Book Review: ‘Wham’ (Timewalker) Vol 1

41/2 -Stars for ‘Wham (Timewalker) Vol 1,’ by Carol-Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps


Unique, Ingenious and Precarious were the three words resounding in my mind while reading this book written by two skilled and extremely imaginative writers.

Unique, because the authors attempted something few others would – fusing Whamdystopian Science Fiction, a la G Orwell, HG Wells, and Aldous Huxley, with pure fantasy, a la Tolkien, CS Lewis and JK Rowling – complete with magic, Fairies and Trolls.

Ingenious, because they were able to weave the two making it a captivating, imaginative read without making the genre fusion seem peculiar.

And precarious, because the story, at times, skirted the line where the adult references may, by some, though carefully handled, be considered too adult for the younger fantasy readers.


Wham, in my opinion, tells three important stories.

The story of a civilisation that, not through war or plague or climatological catastrophe, but through some sort of societal decline, has fallen into an autocratic state of tyranny with constant state surveillance and control, and few, if any, human rights. The story of a driven young girl to win the freedom of her family, regardless of the obstacles, odds and obvious risks, and a story of the human spirit that drives people to adapt to even the harshest of conditions.

Parents are taken away during the night and their children are forced to accept it and move on with their lives.

Young girls who are ‘chosen’ are taken to the elusive and corrupt oligarchic capitol and forced into a degrading lifestyle as slaves to the aristocracy.

This is the part of the book that seemed intentionally dark and reeked of a statement or warning of a potential for our own world.


When it happens to Tess, her family is abducted [relocated] in chapter one, the story’s main character, we have the brightness of that human spirit I spoke of.

Tess is driven, determined and committed to winning her family’s freedom and will learn something valuable about her father and herself as she seeks to find her family and the hidden capitol where her sister Nia is held captive.

I took four pages of notes while reading this book, but literally chucked them when crafting this review as there is plainly too much going on in this compelling tale to condense and summarise in a brief review.

I’ll simply say, that the imagination and research [Please DO read the appendix] that went into this book was astounding. The dystopian world is aptly described and the fantasy is rich, creative, much of it steeped in Gaelic folklore, and colourful.

I have but one criticism—a very slight one indeed, which kept me from giving this a 5-Star review. I love books that make statements and present warnings. Meaningful books which can be read on multiple levels. Wham, I believe, is that type of book. But, in this tale by Carol and Tom Phipps, I feel there may have been too many leaving little room to expound or extend upon the statements or warnings being made.

[Warning – Spoilers ahead]

The air is nearly unbreathable and everyone must use inhalers. But, why? How did this come about? Agricultural spraying is mentioned, but just briefly.

The Aristocracy, the oligarchic elite, along with the tyrannical ruler, have moved to a hidden Capitol. But when and how did this evolve? Did the people resist? Rebel?

It would have been nice to have a little background on these developments as well as the knowledge of how the world fell under the rule of this despotic supreme ruler buttressed by the world police force creatively labelled Children and Family Assistance.

[Final Thoughts]

Wham, by Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps, is a fine, absorbing read. The story is coherent, the pace is fast without being frenetic and the characters are well-developed making this a true page-turner.

I enjoyed this book tremendously, recommend it highly and am anxiously looking forward to the next book in this series.

Review by T, E. Mark – Author


Book Review: ‘The Country Girl Empress’

5-Stars for ‘The Country Girl Empress,’ by A. Piper Burgi


[Warning: Spoilers ahead]

Warm, endearing, turbulent, sensitive and captivating are a mere handful of adjectives I would use if I were to describe, briefly, A. Piper Burgi’s new novel: The Country Girl Empress. Add to those, genuine, exhaustively researched and historically accurate and you’d have my general assessment of this heartening tale that kept myCountry Girl Empress interest from the opening chapter to the final page.

The story, I admit, took me by surprise, as I ventured in expecting a romance loosely knitted around the accession to the Habsburg throne of Austria-Hungry by Franz Joseph and his eventual selection of a bride, the new Empress of Austria; Elisabeth Wittelsbach of Bavaria.

What I found, instead, was a neatly woven story of a simple girl from Bavaria who loved her eccentric father, riding horses, and just happened to be a princess during the time when the children of ruling families were useful for securing alliances and maintaining dynastic rule through planned marriages.

Elisabeth, Sisi, is a plain girl, a tomboy, with no regal aspirations. On the contrary, she, like her father, craves a simple, normal life of riding and travelling and enjoying the country and people.

The focus of the family is on Helene, her older sister, who is delicate and pretty and possesses the charm and grace demanded of the ruling aristocracy of mid-19th century Europe.

But, whether in fairy tales or real life, things seldom go according to plan, and Franz Joseph, the new Emperor, falls, not for the cultured Helene, but for her sister, the shy, suddenly vibrant young country girl princess.

A. Piper Burgi has done what all authors aspire to with this new book. She told a fine story and breathed life into her characters.

Duke Max, Sisi’s father, is real, pleasingly eccentric, a bit nutty, and someone you’d enjoy seeing at the pub or having over for pizza, beer and a ballgame. Ludovika, the young Princess’s mother, is loving, devoted, and, of course, clever and delightfully manipulative.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a story without a good antagonist. And the author gives us a good one in the Emperor’s mother, Archduchess Sophie. Elisabeth’s future mother-in-law.

But, enough spoilers.

This is a delightful book for anyone. Young or old, male or female, The Country Girl Empress is a satisfying read guaranteed to warm your heart while granting you a glimpse into the past and the aristocratic environment: Intrigue, wars, love and manipulation, of the royal European families of the 19th century.

 Review by T. E. Mark – Author