Category Archives: Review

A recent read

Cover, The Last Phase Shift (Amazon)
Cover, The Last Phase Shift (Amazon)

Time to get back to regular blogging again, and I thought I would start with a recap of a recent review of mine, for The Last Phase Shift, by David Frauenfelder. This is the third in a particular series of books, set in and around The Continent, a mysterious land in the Indian Ocean which – among other things – has the curious feature of intermittently phasing out of sync with our world. Until this book, we have not really known where Borschland and the other cluster of nearby countries go to during the phase shift: this book explores that, as well as a number of other fascinating issues.

The full review is at Amazon or Goodreads.

How to describe this book? It’s not easy, and a random collection of facts may not be the best way to introduce you to the charms and delights of Borschland. There are intelligent beasts, including the superb bears who are beginning to feature increasingly in their own stories. It might be called steampunk. It could be classified as a sports story, specifically ice hockey. Weirdly (for those who know me), this book got me quite interested in said sport, to the extent that I started becoming familiar with the jargon, and even watched some YouTube videos showing some of the most striking and skilled moves in the game… called dangles, for the uninitiated (see below for a sample). And it’s also a story telling how the older generation of central characters – the ones who drove the storyline of the first two books – are starting to take a back seat and let the younger generation have their say. But as mentioned above, none of these individual facts can really do justice to the wide-ranging wealth of The Last Phase Shift.

A map of Borschland (from an earlier book in the series)
A map of Borschland (from an earlier book in the series)

I have read the first two books, but am reasonably convinced that this one can be read in isolation. There are enough snippets of contextual information, woven into the tale very neatly, that you can find out anything you need to know to make sense of it.

Be warned… you might easily find yourself being drawn into the bizarre charm of Borschland, and starting to crave more stories set in and around The Continent.

The YouTube video can be found at…


Half Sick of Shadows and IndieBrag

Kindle Cover - Half Sick of Shadows
Kindle Cover – Half Sick of Shadows

I was going to write a blog on something to do with Alexa, but that will now appear after the Christmas holiday break. That’s partly because I have been moving rocks and making new gravel paths, and ending the day somewhat fatigued…

So instead, this is just a short post about an email I received last night, saying that Half Sick of Shadows has been awarded an IndieBrag Medallion.

Specially, I read this:

We have completed the review process for your book “Half Sick of Shadows” and I am pleased to inform you that it has been selected to receive a B.R.A.G. Medallion. We would now like to assist you in gaining recognition of your fine work.
In return, we ask that you permit us to add your book to the listing of Medallion honorees on our website

Well, needless to say I haven’t yet had time to do the stuff at their website – that will follow over the next few days – but that was a very nice piece of news just as the holiday break is starting!

A review at The Review

I am writing in haste today as in a few minutes I am off at a technology conference – the annual Microsoft Future Decoded event, held out in the old Docklands area. Last year this was well worth going to, for both the scheduled presentations and the informal chats at booths and stalls. As usual, my main interest is in AI, and there’s a fair bit on offer. No doubt I shall relate anything of wider interest in the coming weeks.

Cover - Queen of a Distant Hive
Cover – Queen of a Distant Hive

So the main content today is to draw attention to The Review, and my particular review there of Theresa Tomlinson’s Queen of a Distant Hive. It’s set in 7th century Britain, when the land was still divided into several different kingdoms coexisting in uneasy truce. The novel is a sequel to A Swarming of Bees, and involves some overlap of characters, but it can be read separately. I thoroughly enjoyed this book (well, both books) as you can discover by reading the review. Moreover, Theresa is providing a copy as giveaway prize, and all you have to do to enter, is to leave a comment at The Review blog page or the linked Facebook page.

That’s it for today…

A Review of Half Sick of Shadows – with giveaway

Kindle Cover - Half Sick of Shadows
Kindle Cover – Half Sick of Shadows

I was going to do part two of Left Behind by Events, but when this review came out on the Before the Second Sleep blog, plans changed. You will guess when you read it that I was very happy about this – not just the review itself, but the way it brought out comparisons and associated thoughts. I’m going to quote extracts from the review here… for the full thing you’ll have to follow the link.

And if you do, there’s a bonus – leave a comment at the linked blog (not this one) and your name will go into a hat for a free giveaway copy of the book.

Contemporary author Richard Abbott takes this one step further by incorporating his own already popular literary bents—historical and science fiction—into a highly accessible re-interpretation of Tennyson’s masterpiece, itself based on the life of Elaine of Astolat, a tragic figure within the Arthurian catalogue. Written in prose and sectioned off a few more times than “The Lady of Shalott,” Abbott’s Half Sick of Shadows takes us into a world of beauty and cruelty, loving and longing, a world of isolation in which the Lady yearns for her own voice and must choose which sacrifice to perform.

The metamorphosis of this re-telling gifts readers the feeling that they are receiving the Lady’s story for the very first time. For those familiar with Abbott’s previous work, the historical may be an expected element, but the speculative angle is a definitive bonus, and done with a subtly that enhances rather than reduces the Arthurian and historical within Tennyson’s version. There is a machination about the mirror, in its gathering of data as the Lady sleeps between instars, or growth states, and during her acquisition of knowledge, and periodically we hear a word or phrase (e.g. gibbous) that injects the story with a small flavor of the author’s previous forays into a galactical colony.

For me, this speaks volumes about Abbott’s ability to transition from genre to genre: he clearly is comfortable writing in a variety, and with Half Sick of Shadows we see this taken to another level as he combines it into one: history, mythology, fantasy and speculative. Perhaps some might even add mystery and/or romance, for the Lady catches a glimpse of Lancelot in her mirror, and from then on everything she acts upon, whether in pragmatic caution or foolish abandon, is in response to the spell she knows she is under, a magic that will destroy her should she try to look directly at the world outside. The manner in which Abbott expands upon the Lady’s life and events within, simultaneously breaking ground while remaining true to Tennyson as he retains the spiritual within the legends of Camelot, is inspiring and captivating. The imagery and descriptive language is economic yet rich.

Whether re-visiting or new to the legend, readers will cherish Abbott’s novella, an original and enthralling re-telling suitable to current sensibilities, with a blend of Victorian sensory and critical, and the Modernist aim to further pique cultural curiosity. It is a merger in which Abbott splendidly succeeds.

Once again: the link to the full review is Like it says, there’s a giveaway copy to be won – follow that link and leave a comment to be in with a chance.

A good start for Timing

Timing Kindle cover
Timing Kindle cover

Only a short blog this week as lots of other things are pressing in… and it’s all about Timing.

First, paperback copies are now available to go alongside Kindle ones, and Amazon (USUK and anywhere else) have joined it all up so you can find the different formats easily.

Then The Book Depository is now stocking it, which is good because they do world-wide free delivery. So if you’re not an Amazon Prime customer, or you live somewhere where Amazon charge for delivery, this is an option.

Finally (for today) the first review is now in, at the Breakfast With Pandora blog. Among other nice things, the review says

So here he is, Mit, a dashing yet ethical nerd, threading his way through entanglements virtual, emotional, and both at the same time, while hunting down the shadowy anarchist group “Robin’s Rebels” and sending down versions of new software written on the fly to his superiors, with the obligatory “interim release note.”

It’s all in the timing, and it’s a grand time…

Bits and pieces

Daybreak at Gale Crater (NASA/JPL)
Daybreak at Gale Crater (NASA/JPL)

Several bits and pieces to talk about today. First, I was nominated in one of these “post seven lines from page seven of your current Work in Progress” challenges. It’s always a bit tricky picking out where page seven is, since I write initially for Kindle. But what follows is a fair guess. The story is (provisionally) called Timing. It opens with Mitnash and Slate back on the Scilly Isle asteroids, having just come in from a long and seemingly dull trip out to one of the moons of Jupiter. They are at Frag Rockers Bar with their friends, and one of them has just mentioned a leaflet which appeared recently, circulated by a group called Robin’s Rebels which Mitnash has never heard of.

Eibhlin took the leaflet from Rydal.

“Here, listen. ‘We are the voice of the downtrodden poor. Financial oppression is slavery; deals and investments are today’s whips and chains. But we speak for freedom and justice, and we have the technical talent to fight back. We will strike again and again at these parasites until the entire system is destroyed, root and branch. We will force out those who grow rich from others by means of clever financial tricks, and make them work at honest labour. You do not know us yet, but you will know us soon.’ Then there’s quite a bit more, all much the same.”

Finn was reading over her shoulder.

“Sounds like they’re up for a fight. Do you think they’re for real or just making noise?”

Robin’s Rebels feature prominently in Timing, along with several other old friends and adversaries – and new ones. As well as on the Scilly Isle asteroids, some of the action takes place on Mars and one of its moons, Phobos. All being well, you will find out more about all this towards the end of the summer…

Sruti Nayani (Google+ photo)
Sruti Nayani (Google+ photo)

As well as that, Far from the Spaceports has appeared in several reviews and interviews, which has been very gratifying. There has been something of an international flavour here. Sruti’s Book Blog, over in India, carried a review and two-part interview, which can be found at:

What was interesting about the book besides the awesome set up, and the background, was the author keeping in touch with the subtle ways of humans, way into the future.

Of course, there is fraud and there are people investigating it, but he manages to grab the reader’s interest, right at the start. How do the two of them manage to solve the mystery? How does it all work, in an environment that is so different from ours?

Arnis Vēveris (from his blog)
Arnis Vēveris (from his blog)

Then we move to Latvia, where Arnis Vēveris reviewed Far from the Spaceports on his blog. He kindly provides an English translation along with the Latvian. Among other things, he wrote:

“Wonderful atmosphere, great dynamics between characters and good mystery about the financial case”.

Don Massenzio (from his blog)
Don Massenzio (from his blog)

Then finally it was over to the US of A for an author interview with Don Massenzio, including an extract featuring the Frag Rockers Bar, my favourite hangout on the Scilly Isles. This starts with some easy questions like

DM: Can you summarise your book in one sentence?
RA: A human-AI partnership tackles hi-tech financial crime among the asteroids.

and then moves through several other questions to finish with the extract I mentioned.

Far from the Spaceports cover
Far from the Spaceports cover

Reviews and a guest blog

Replica of Ferriby boat being sailed (
Replica of Ferriby boat being sailed (

Not much new here this week, since my blogging effort has mainly gone into a guest blog at Antoine Vanner’s Dawlish Chronicles, on the subject Prehistoric Seafaring along the Atlantic Coasts. Normally Antoine’s blog deals with 19th century naval issues, but on this occasion he was kind enough to let me take his readers back into the Bronze and Neolithic ages.

On to reviews. The Flame Before Us has just had a very pleasant 5* review on Hoover Book Reviews. “From the noble, nose in the air, Egyptians to the settlements of peasants to the nomadic clans, we have a tale of loss, hardship, and hope as cultures collide and times change.  Kudos to the author for a most enjoyable series.  I look forward to more.” And in time, hopefully there will be more.

And finally, for those who haven’t yet seen it, here is a review of Far from the Spaceports. This review is by Ian Grainger, who regularly produces my covers. Science fiction is much more his cup of tea than historicals…

Another long time favourite

Cover image - Hiero's Journey
Cover image – Hiero’s Journey

I’ve been away for a few days so thought I would indulge myself again with a quick blog reminiscing about a third book which I have reread multiple times since first coming across it. This one is Hiero’s Journey, which I first read on the recommendation of a friend in my mid teens. The full review is on Amazon and Goodreads; here is an extract.

My paperback copy is old and battered – I gather from other comments that the hugely more recent Kindle version has not been very well executed, so a second hand physical copy might be the best choice if you’re interested.

Review extract :

Hiero and his people combine a religious sensibility with a burgeoning scientific spirit of enquiry, at the same time as practicing a form of magic. They recognise these as three complementary approaches to the world around them, and try to integrate them all into a single coherent lifestyle. For me, this was, and remains, one of the strongest and most compelling features of Hiero’s Journey.

That’s it for 2015: here’s wishing to all readers a very good 2016…

Long-standing favourites

I thought for today I would post a couple of reviews, not of books I have just encountered, but of ones which have been firm favourites for many years.

Before getting to that, though, it is worth mentioning the Goodreads giveaway at At the time of writing there is about a day and a half left for this (it runs out on December 23, 2015 at 11:59PM) and there has been a very positive response. If you want to enter, navigate there and complete the online form.

So, reviews. First is a childhood favourite, which I still dip into from time to time – Heather Hill. by Elleston Trevor. I have the privilege of having supplied the first review of this book – published in 1946 – on both Amazon UK and Goodreads. The review reads, in part,

The language is deliberately archaic, foregrounding the sense that this place has been left behind by the outside world. In many ways, Elleston Trevor portrays his animals in the same way that Tolkein does his elves – they are little by little falling silent and becoming separate, progressively disconnecting from humanity. There is the same sense of self-sufficiency, and the same sense of loss… 

like all good children’s literature, there are potent adult themes here. For me at least, the haunting narrative style, and the unashamed foregrounding of personal loss and difficulty, make this a truly memorable work. The verbal imagery, the absorbing world, and the quirky personalities described have stayed with me for years, and I am sure I will revisit Heather Hill many times in the future.

The second book I discovered a little later in life – Encounter with Tiber, by Buzz Aldrin and John Barnes. Happily, this one has been found by others too, who for the most part also appreciate its mix of up-front science and fascinating fiction. My review is again on Amazon UK and Goodreads, and reads in part

Inevitably some of the dates have been and gone without humanity achieving the technological targets Aldrin and Barnes set out. Of itself, that no more detracts from the story than the absence of hover boards and flying cars does in 2015!… 

Ultimately, Encounter with Tiber is a hopeful book, and one which affirms a positive view of life. Realism is present – things go wrong, people (and aliens) make mistakes and do bad things – but these are presented against an optimistic view of history rather than a pessimistic one. Courage, self-sacrifice and loyalty are universal virtues – they do not guarantee success, but they mitigate the worst effects of failure, and enrich the journey regardless of the outcome.

Cover - Heather Hill, under wartime conditions
Cover – Heather Hill, under wartime conditions
Cover - Encounter with Tiber
Cover – Encounter with Tiber


A first review for Far from the Spaceports

I was thrilled to see this review appear on the Breakfast with Pandora blog, at

Asteroid Ida with moon Dactyl - NASA picture
Asteroid Ida with moon Dactyl – NASA picture

Far from the Spaceports is vintage Richard Abbott, a splendid good read, even if it is science rather than historical fiction, the genre of his three previous novels… you have Mit, who uses computer programming the way Indiana Jones uses his whip. You also have Mitnash’s “persona,” Slate, a fascinating AI computer who combines some of the aspects of the HAL “2001: A Space Odyssey” computer with what can only be termed sexy geek girl partner… Add to this a number of well-drawn supporting characters (including the dashing South Asian spaceship captain Parvati and her partner Maureen, and Mrs. Riley, who is more than just an old lady B&B proprietress), a non-obvious economic mystery to unravel, and an ugly little persona that hacks in to Slate, and you have a nifty and entertaining short novel with much room for further adventures, possibly the best thing the author has done to date.

Great stuff.

Also, for those on Facebook, there is a book launch evening coming up on Monday December 7th between 7pm and 9pm UK time. All are welcome.