“It’s a real feast.” – DOG MEAT by Priscilla Bettis reviewed

The blurb: Kalb Ward slaughters dogs for the Colony, a closed, dystopian society where resources are tight, free speech is nonexistent, and those in power have eyes and ears everywhere. Ward desperately wants to quit his grisly job, but he knows he’ll be arrested, or worse, if he tries.

In the Colony, a citizen’s future is determined by a placement exam. Score high, and you’re set for life. Score low, and you end up living a nightmare–like Ward.

Li Ling, the love of Ward’s youth, scored high, and she’s a local celebrity now, far out of his reach. Meanwhile, his neighbor’s son is making a series of disastrous decisions as his own exam rapidly approaches.

Can Ward bridge the social divide and win back Li Ling? Can he help the neighbor’s son avoid a future as grim as his own? Can he escape the Colony’s oppressive rule and, if he’s very lucky, bring down the whole horrific system in the process?

You know what they say: Every dog has his day.

And Ward’s day is coming.


The review: For a story about someone who slaughters dogs for a living, this really is an elegantly written book. The prose in Dog Meat is simple and direct, much like Ward, the dog slaughterer at the heart of it.

He’s a quiet and frustrated citizen of The Colony, a grim and dystopian society where freedom of speech is nonexistent and everyone’s every move is monitored closely. He spends his afternoons and evenings round the back of a restaurant, killing dogs that will be cooked and eaten inside. This constant killing is starting to affect him, so one day he decides to simply jump over the wall and go. He doesn’t get very far before state soldiers turn up to arrest him and take him away for ‘re-educating’. Otherwise known as hard labour.

 Ward’s life is small and insular. He’s dirt poor and other than his terrible job, all he has is his mother who visits once a week and his neighbour Lam, for whom he has a soft spot, and her useless son. Ward can see this boy heading for the same grisly existence as himself, and so tries his best to intervene. Also on the periphery of Ward’s radar is Li Ling, the voice of the state broadcaster and his old school friend. At some point their lives converged, with her path leading to success and adoration. And his? Well…

It’s all very bleak, but as I said at the start, that bleakness belies the beautiful storytelling. Because, yes, this book really is beautiful, and I found myself utterly captivated by Priscilla Bettis’s style. And despite his introverted nature, you can’t help but warm to Ward as a protagonist. He’s a tortured man, acutely aware that, were it not for a single stroke of bad luck, his life could have turned out so differently. And yet he’s not completely without hope.            

Ultimately, Dog Meat is about human life, in all its glorious complexity, being ground under the boot of a brutal and oppressive regime. It’s about lives and dreams and potential lost. And it’s about the beauty of the human spirit, and how it finds hope in the unlikeliest of places. In that sense, Dog Meat is a real feast.

The author: Priscilla Bettis read her first horror story, The Exorcist, when she was a little kid. She snuck the book from her parents’ den. The Exorcist scared Priscilla silly, and she was hooked on the power of the horror genre from that moment on.

Priscilla is an excellent swimmer, which is good because vampires are terrible swimmers.

Priscilla shares a home in the Northern Plains of Texas with her two-legged and four-legged family members.

Dog Meat by Priscilla Bettis is available from Amazon.

“This future is closer than we’d care to admit.” – COUNTERPOINT by Michelle Cook reviewed

The blurb: It’s 31st October 2041 in England. On her twenty-fifth birthday, Essie Glass still grieves for her family, killed by a terrorist bomb when she was just sixteen. The signs of humanity and climate in decline are everywhere. Roads and communities crumble, floods and fires blight the landscape, and the sea reclaims the islands of the world. Unconcerned, the government tightens its grip on power with brazen propaganda and brutality.

Still, Essie has built a good life with Seth and their four-year-old daughter, Willow. If only she wasn’t haunted by the events of six years ago, when Alex Langford, corrupt businessman-turned-Prime Minister, tried to kill her to conceal his conspiracy to suppress climate-saving technology.

Essie takes solace in her secret plot to build a new prototype. When tricked into revealing the scheme to powerful enemies, she is forced to abandon her cherished family and run for her life. Her flight drives her into the heart of a resistance movement she never knew existed.

Among the chaos, and in mortal danger, will Essie finally find hope for the future?

The review: If this book is anything to go by, Michelle Cook is an author not holding out a lot of hope for humankind.

In this sequel to Tipping Point, it’s 2041 and the world is drowning. Cuba has been wiped off the map by floods, and rising sea levels are threatening London. Against this background of chaos and state-sponsored violence, our gritty and determined hero Essie Glass once again finds herself at the wrong end of government oppression.

For the sake of her life and the lives of her partner, former man of the cloth Seth, and her fearless four year old daughter Willow, she is forced to head out alone to try and salvage the prototype carbon capture device that is the only hope of survival for life on Earth.

As Essie descends into the underworld of the resistance, never fully knowing who she can trust, Seth and Willow are pursued across the country by the murderous jackbooted foot soldiers of sadistic prime minister Alex Langford.

Tipping Point set up the uncompromising, turbulent and dystopian vision of a future Britain that is Essie Glass’s reality, and in Counterpoint things have deteriorated yet further. Usually, when you pick up a novel, you can be pretty damn sure that the hero and their nearest and dearest are going to make it through to the end relatively unscathed. But here Michelle makes it clear early on that no one is safe. Basically, this story comes with no guarantees, which makes it all the more thrilling. It’s a sweaty, claustrophobic, bloody, white knuckle ride from page one. And just when you think we’ve reached peak bleak, a glimmer of hope presents itself somewhere on the horizon.

Like its predecessor, Counterpoint is vital and immediate, dealing with issues that humankind can no longer brush aside. It’s a violent book but the violence is justified because this future is closer than we’d care to admit. Michelle Cook is rapidly becoming a favourite novelist of mine because she has stories inside her than demand to be told, and she has a lot to say about government and capitalism. So if you haven’t read Tipping Point, gird your loins and pick it up, then get stuck into this tremendous book. Just be aware that the world will look like a very different place once you’ve finished it.

The author: Michelle Cook writes thrillers and dystopian fiction. She lives in Worcestershire, UK with her husband and their two young children.

Her first joyful steps into creative writing were at the age of ten, when the teacher read out her short story in class. A slapstick tale of two talking kangaroos breaking out of a zoo, the work was sadly lost to history. Still, Michelle never forgot the buzz of others enjoying her words.

More recently, she has had several flash pieces published, was longlisted for the Cambridge Prize for flash fiction, and placed first in the Writers’ Forum competition with her short story The Truth About Cherry House. Her debut novel, Tipping Point, was a finalist in the 2022 Page Turner Awards.

Counterpoint, the sequel to Tipping Point, is her second novel.

Counterpoint by Michelle Cook is published by Darkstroke Books and is available from Amazon.

“Plays like this are why theatres were built in the first place.” SORTER by Richard Mylan reviewed

I don’t go to the theatre very often, but after seeing this production I feel I need to seriously buck my ideas up.

Sorter, which is being staged at Swansea Grand Theatre’s Arts Wing, is the colliding story of two heroin addicts, one a dysfunctional young woman with her half-dead eyes always on the next fix, and the other an apparently functioning A&E nurse who’s fallen into the trap of self-medicating.

Richard Mylan, who wrote the play, was himself a functioning heroin addict, keeping his habit hidden just beneath the surface as he pursued a successful acting career. He plays the aforementioned A&E nurse opposite Sophie Melville’s addled user, and the dramatic heft of the play hinges on their raw, primal and excoriating performances.

As ‘functioning’ members of society, we are used to heroin users existing below our eye lines, and so it might have been for these two characters, but thanks to two brilliant narrative arcs they become identifiable, human, and vulnerable. In his case it’s a single, catastrophic lapse in judgement that starts him on the slippery slope to the gutter, and in hers it’s the discovery that she’s pregnant. This revelation sparks something in her, and she starts to envisage a better life, as a loving mother, free of addiction.

These twin narratives unfold against the backdrop of a bus shelter, the only props being the strip lighting that the actors can remove and use to represent all manner of things. Adding weight to the sense of claustrophobia and impending tragedy are the lighting and the background music, both brilliantly effective.

A few months ago we were lucky enough to have Richard join the writing group I’m a member of (Swansea and District Writers’ Circle) as our guest speaker. This was when Sorter was still in production. It was a brilliant evening and we learnt of the story behind the story (Richard’s own addiction) and Richard’s desire to see plays regarding Swansea produced in-house at the Grand Theatre, which led to the formation of the creative collective named Grand Ambition.

Well, it would seem that Richard’s grand ambition (see what I did there?) has paid off, as Sorter has been getting rave reviews everywhere. The Guardian gave it four stars, The Stage also gave it four stars and Buzz gave it five. And as for me, there just aren’t enough stars in the world for this production.

I met Richard after the performance and told him that, after witnessing his play, I felt like I needed a bath. This might have sounded irreverent, but it was meant as a compliment of the highest order. I really did feel like I’d spent the previous hour and ten minutes being dragged through the mire of addiction, experiencing the brutal realities of it via the electrifying performances of the two stars. It thoroughly deserved the standing ovation that it got. If you love theatre, you need to see this play. If theatre is a stranger to you, then you need to see this play and realise what a vital institution it can be. After all, plays like this are why theatres were built in the first place.

Sorter is on at the Grand Theatre Swansea until Friday 10 March.

“Brutality! Seediness! Controversy!” – THE PHOENIX HOUR by Paula R.C. Readman reviewed

The blurb: In 2055, humanity is on the brink of extinction after the misuse of an Intellectual Improvement drug.

Doctor Louise Brimstone is facing mounting pressure from Professor Davidson. She must find a way of creating genetically matching babies for the wealthy clientele at Hartley Research Centre of Excellence.

Louise wants to rectify the problem by the use of a time machine hidden in the cellar at the centre, but she is only able to travel back to the year 1900. In the past, Louise soon succumbs to the charms of Sir Charles Aldringham.

Aldringham’s mission to destroy two wealthy families who defrauded him is nearing completion, but first he draws Louise into his depraved blackmailing schemes – leaving her to dispose of the mutilated bodies of young women.

Will Louise discover the means to save the future by harvesting eggs from the past?

Time is ticking, but for whom?

The review: This is a tricky one to review without giving away too much of the twists and turns of the plot because there are so many of them, but I’ll give it my best shot. Here goes…

When it’s revealed in the first few pages that sometime in the past the protagonist’s parents were killed in an unexplained car crash, you know things aren’t going to go smoothly, and so it is for scientist Dr Louise Brimstone in this sci-fi/horror/thriller/ mash-up from the author of Stone Angels and Seeking the Dark. It’s the year 2055 and the world has found itself in the grip of a population crisis, thanks to a drug designed to boost people’s intellectual capacity which also came with the side effect of making them infertile. Oops.

With his big pharma corporation under financial pressure, Louise’s boss dumps the responsibility for solving this little problem on her, and salvation comes from a truly unexpected source. Meanwhile, young woman in the 1900s are mysteriously disappearing. Are these two seemingly disparate occurrences linked? Of course they. It wouldn’t be much of a novel if they weren’t.

If you’ve read anything by Paula R.C. Readman before, you’ll know that she doesn’t flinch when it comes to depicting brutality, seediness, sex and controversial subjects – and I’m pleased to report that they are all present and correct here in The Phoenix Hour.

As the story unfolds in truly unexpected ways, among the subjects examined are how women on the bottom rung of the wealth ladder are exploited and abused by the men at the top, the dangers of mob justice and – crucially – how far a person will go to save their own skin as well as the world’s population.

This is a unique story full of compelling characters, surprising twists and genuine horror. I thought it was great and I can’t wait to see what Paula has in store for us next. Whatever it is, I hope it’s as distinctive and startling as this. Bravo!

The bio: Paula R. C. Readman was born in Essex and has family roots in Whitby, North Yorkshire. She’s married. After leaving school with no qualifications, she worked in low-paying jobs until redundancy changed the direction of her life. Encouraged by her husband, she taught herself how to write from books purchased from eBay.

In 2010 her first short story was published by English Heritage in an anthology. In 2012, she was the overall winner in the Writing Magazine/Harrogate Crime Festival Short Story competition. Since then she has had over other a hundred short stories and flash fiction published in various anthologies and online.

Paula writes mainly about the darker side of life in her gothic crime tales. Her first gothic crime novella is The Funeral Birds published by Demain Publishing and a collection of short dark tales published by Bridge House called Days Pass Like A Shadow. Her first full-length gothic crime novel, Stone Angels was published by Darkstroke Books in August 2020 and they also published her second gothic crime novel, Seeking the Dark in May 2021 and The Phoenix Hour in 2022.

Paula is busy writing a follow-on novel to The Funeral Birds called, As The Crow Flies. two graves and one body.

The Phoenix Hour by Paula R.C. Readman is available from Amazon.

THE MAKING OF ANNIE-MAY by Alana Beth Davies reviewed

The Blurb:

This is a love story, a family saga, and a social and political commentary on life in 20th century Wales, as seen through the eyes of one woman and her family, as we follow her journey from a pliable and naïve young girl to a confident and self-assured woman.

The Review:

It all starts when Anja May Gethin lands herself a job as a temporary, fill-in teacher in a local college. It’s a big step and she feels unprepared and not a little terrified, but with her husband out of work and three daughters to support, it’s a leap she has to take.

This is the south Wales Valleys of the early 1980s. Margaret Thatcher is in No.10 and a miners’ strike is looming. In other words, life is pretty tough. However, our Anja (or Annie-May to her nearest and dearest) is strong, resilient and resourceful, and she has unwittingly just taken the first step on a journey that will eventually lead her all the way to Parliament. But to get there, she has to negotiate the rapids of forbidden love, institutional sexism and family secrets long buried deep.

Spanning several generations, The Making of Annie-May is a book about families, politics, ambition, secrets and lies, all driven by anger, desperation, the desire for a better world, and – of course – love. It is fantastically written with a vivid sense of character, time and place. Alana Beth Davies doesn’t just weave a handful of characters in these pages, she spins and entire village with its own social and economic eco system. And at the centre of this ever-spinning vortex of unemployment, babies, schooling, bills, divorce, marriage and frustration is Anja, who, with the endless support of her equally resilient mum Sarah, slowly comes to realise the importance of politics and how it affects every single aspect of her life.

This is as much a manifesto as it a novel, driven by fire and belief, and is utterly compelling from start to end. I couldn’t put it down.

The Author:

Alana grew up in Porthcawl on the south Wales coast. She achieved success in her careers of both education and politics, with some entrepreneurship along the way. It was later that she found the time and the opportunity to pursue her real passion – that of writing.

Having moved to her mother’s hometown of Swansea, she now writes short stories, flash fiction and poetry.

This is Alana’s first full-length novel; she has a sequel underway, as well as a further novel set in Ireland and Wales.

The Making of Annie-May by Alana Beth Davies is available from Amazon.

“This is a film about time and the landscape.” – ENYS MEN reviewed

Enys Men is the kind of film that one person will like and another will not for exactly the same reasons. Chronicling the disturbing experiences of a lone ‘volunteer’ who is monitoring the progress of some rare plants on a barren, wind-battered Cornish island, it’s discordant, fragmented, dreamlike and, most of all, unsettling.

The island in question (Enys Men translates as Stone Island) is dominated by a standing stone that is the first thing The Volunteer (excellently played by Mary Woodvine) sees whenever she steps out of her cottage. It is 1973, according to the records she keeps, and her only means of connection with the world are a transistor radio and a CB for talking to the mainland. Every day, as a matter of ritual, she drops a stone down a mineshaft and waits for the faint, distant splash.

But soon strange things start to happen. There is a news report on the radio that could only be from a future year. The ocean’s waves roll backwards. She is frequently accompanied by her younger self. She is serenaded by white-robed children and Bal Maidens.

Yes, this is a film about time and the landscape, both of which haunt The Volunteer in ever more disturbing ways. Her journey towards madness is chronicled with sparse dialogue, frequent bursts of deafening sound, fragmented time and inexplicable visions of the island’s past inhabitants.

Shot on 16mm, Enys Men has the coarse grain and visceral colour of the folk-horror films of the era it is set in, which adds yet another layer to its sense of disturbed time.  

A friend and I saw the film on the big screen at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff. Knowing that I was in for a ’different’ kind of movie experience, I opened my mind and allowed it to transport it to its own reality. In other words, I was willing to be challenged, and in this sense the film totally worked on me. I thought it was brilliant. The friend I attended the screening with, on the other hand, was not so taken with it. As I said at the start, this film is one that is going to divide people. Some will tune into the language of it, some will not.

 The screening was followed by a Q&A with director Mark Jenkin, who also wrote, shot, edited and scored the movie. Phew. Mark spoke about the hands-on approach he takes to his work, how the pandemic affected the film and how much of what we saw on the screen does not necessarily have a meaning, but allows viewers to find their own. He also related how he got carried away with the scoring process and started to have delusions of being a rock star. It was a very enlightening, enjoyable and often funny talk.

In an interview with Fortean Times magazine about Enys Men, Mark said that as a child he was frightened of the Merry Maidens standing stones in Penzance, having been told that they had once been living, breathing girls, and that they had been turned to stone for daring to dance on the Sabbath. He also said that ‘the scariest thing in horror films is when times stops making sense’. In these two things you’ll find the DNA of his film. Seek it out on the big screen if you possibly can. I can strongly recommend it, but I can’t guarantee that you’ll like it.

“She cast a spell on me with this book.” – THE WITCH AND THE FAITHLESS by Polly J. Mordant reviewed

It is our third visit to the supernaturally-afflicted village of Flammark and we find our gifted hero Emma Blake in a state of turmoil. Her dear friend (and local priest) Will Turner has gone awol, leaving her bereft, and the village has been issued with a replacement priest (the faithless of the title?) who immediately proceeds to rub everyone up the wrong way. And if all that isn’t enough, Emma’s gloriously foul-mouthed detective boyfriend Westen is neck-deep in a multiple murder investigation.

Yes, there is a serial killer on the loose, and they’re exclusively targeting teenage girls. But this is no ordinary, common-or-garden, run-of-the-mill, hack-n-slash serial killer. No, this one buries his or her victims alive, apparently with their compliance, and then makes their parents oblivious to the fact that their offspring are even missing, let alone lying dead in a hole in the ground somewhere.

Oh, and an ancient witch has apparently risen and has attached itself to Emma.

Sound strange and inexplicable? Well, this is the anti-Dibley, after all.

The Witch and the Faithless is absolutely, totally and completely the best of the Flammark series so far. As a supernatural thriller it ticks all the boxes and more by being exciting, thoughtful, compelling, deep and even – yes – educational. Seriously, I learned a lot about witches and folk mythology in these pages.

The characters are all, of course, engaging and likeable, except for the ones who aren’t supposed to be likable, but the star of the show for my money is the titular witch. When she makes her first appearance it’s genuinely electrifying. Also, this witch is considerably more than the usual cackling, spell-casting hag of trope. I love what the author has conjured up here, rooting her in the landscape and pagan lore. And despite her terrifying initial appearance, as her back story is uncovered Mordant pulls off the impressive feat of making the reader feel sympathetic for her.

Hats off for that one.

Actually, I’m starting to wonder if Polly J. Mordant herself might be a witch, especially after she cast such a spell on me with this book. In a footnote she promises further instalments and I say hurrah! My bags are already packed and Flammark awaits.

“You’ll find love on every page.” – Cerys Matthews’ retelling of UNDER MILKWOOD reviewed

As a Dylan Thomas fanboy (my copy of The Dylan Thomas Omnibus never leaves my bedside) I was very excited about getting my hands on a copy of this book. It’s an illustrated retelling of Thomas’s classic ‘play for voices’ that made its debut in 1954.

For those that don’t already know, Under Milkwood chronicles a day in the life of a small, ‘lulled and dumbfound’ seaside town in Wales called Llareggub. The story begins and ends at night, ‘behind the eyes of the sleepers’, and we share all these characters’ ‘dismays and rainbows and tunes and wishes and flight and fall and despairs’ that occur during these glorious 24 hours.

This lovingly produced book comes courtesy of singer/songwriter/author/radio presenter Cerys Matthews, another Thomas devotee, who has in the past recorded an album based on his work (A Child’s Christmas, 2014). As a ‘retelling’, the original text is not presented here in its complete form. Instead, exquisite paintings by illustrator and artist Kate Evans do much of the work without losing any of the evocative power of the original, as her images capture perfectly the sombre, playful and bittersweet mood that Thomas’s words so vividly paint in the mind.

In the biggest change to the narrative, Cerys has taken pieces from the play’s opening and moved them to the latter pages, using them to extend the evening. In the original work, Thomas devotes a great deal of attention to the comings and goings of the villagers during the morning and afternoon, with dusk arriving and departing rather abruptly.  

Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to attend a launch event in Swansea where the author chatted about the concept behind her retelling, about her agonising over what text to keep and what to lose, and about how the original play is saturated with love. And on this I absolutely agree. There’s unrequited love, love for husbands both drunk and sober, love in stitches hung on the wall and love for the town itself expressed in sermons. And in this book you’ll find love on every page; love for the characters, love for the setting, love for the words.

Cerys said at the event that this book would be a great way to introduce children to the work of Dylan Thomas. As well as the enchanting and playful artwork, the story is packed with loveably eccentric characters, wry observations and crackling dialogue.  And just to keep things kid-friendly, Cerys has replaced Captain Cat’s immortal line, delivered with the lost love of his life, Rosie Probert, in mind, “Let me shipwreck in your thighs”, with “Let me shipwreck in your eyes.”  

Me meeting Cerys at the event

To produce a retelling of a classic work – especially one so beloved – is a brave thing to do, and only someone who truly loves the original could have pulled it off so beautifully. It’s as much a tribute as it is a retelling. So, whether you’re familiar with original work or have yet to discover it, I think you’ll fall in love with this gorgeous book.

Milkwood awaits.

Dylan Thomas’s Under Milkwood: a Retelling by Cerys Matthews, illustrated by Kate Evans, is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson and is out now.

“Thank you for introducing me to Tartan Noir.” – HUNTER’S REVENGE by Val Penny reviewed

The blurb:

Hunter by name – Hunter by nature.

Detective Inspector Hunter Wilson is a loyal friend and a fair leader. He is called to the scene of a murder in Edinburgh where the corpse has been fatally shot. He is dismayed to find the victim is his friend and colleague, George Reinbold.Hunter must investigate Reinbold’s murky past in Germany to identify George’s killer.

At the same time, Hunter is tasked with looking into a previously undetected criminal gang supplying drugs from Peru.There seems to be no connection between the murder and the drug supply until Hunter unexpectedly secures help from inmates of the local jail.

Hunter’s investigations are hampered by distracted members of his team and unobservant witnesses.

Reinbold was not the quiet, old man Hunter believed him to be and his killer bore their grudge for a lifetime.

The review…

One of their own has been murdered on his doorstep, and now Edinburgh’s finest are out for blood.

George Reinbold (or Georg as he was known in his East German youth) was a gentle, private and respected man with a passion for first edition books. But, as it turns out, he has been carrying with him all these years a terrible secret, and has been living in fear behind bullet proof glass and bomb proof curtains.


A burnt-out car with the body of a young woman has been found near the airport, and it seems that a lot of crims have been looking for it. But why?

In DI Hunter Wilson’s second outing (his first being Hunter’s Chase), he is called upon to investigate this cold blooded killing of a friend and colleague and discover what’s so special about an apparently unremarkable, ten-year-old Volvo that was nicked from a local car showroom.

This was my first dip into the murky waters of author Val Penny’s world of crime, and it was a delight. Hunter isn’t cut from the usual noir cloth (i.e. gruff, bitter, alcoholic), being instead reasonably level-headed, assuredly moral and admirably socially active. However, he is also clever, thorough and dogged, which is bad news for the baddies.

Along for the ride are Hunter’s posse of trusted deputies, including his memorable sidekick DC Tim Myerscough, a well-bred copper with a butler. How often do you get to say that about a crime novel? These characters are all richly drawn with a believable and enjoyable interplay of professional and personal relationships.

As the investigation progresses, the suspicions of this righteous band bounce from one scrote to the next and to the next, as clues are uncovered and secrets revealed. It’s all deliciously compelling.

Another character that warrants mentioning is Edinburgh itself. Val is obviously in love with her adopted home and its DNA is imprinted on every page. For me, it’s always a good sign when you can’t imagine a story being set anywhere else.

Another big plus is that Val eschews the familiar Brit noir topes of geezer posturing and violence in favour of richly drawn characters, a tangled web of motives and a wicked smorgasbord of suspects. So, thank you Val for a superbly enjoyable book, and thank you also for introducing me to the subgenre Tartan Noir. I’ll certainly be back for more.

Author Val Penny

The author…

Val Penny has an Llb degree from the University of Edinburgh and her MSc from Napier University. She has had many jobs including hairdresser, waitress, banker, azalea farmer and lecturer but has not yet achieved either of her childhood dreams of being a ballerina or owning a candy store.

Until those dreams come true, she has turned her hand to writing poetry, short stories,nonfiction,and novels. Val is an American author living in SW Scotland. She has two adult daughters of whom she is justly proud and lives with her husband and their cat.

Hunter’s Revenge by Val Penny is published by SpellBound Books and is out now. Order yours here…

“This is a book for people who love books.” – ECHO: THE CURSE OF THE BLACKWOOD WITCHES by Yasmine Maher reviewed

Everything about this book is beautiful; the cover, the writing, the story, the titular character, even the formatting! How often do you find yourself saying that about a novel? I even dig the ‘Echo’ logo on the cover. Yes, you can tell that a lot of thought, care, effort and love has gone into creating this work. Author Yasmine Maher is clearly someone who loves books, and she’s passing that love on in the form of her own.

Enter Echo!

Our improbably yet gloriously named hero is at law school, has a fiancé called Joe and a sister called Tara who’s getting married. Yes, she’s an apparently normal young woman with a secure yet unremarkable future ahead of her. Ah, but Echo is a Blackwood which means that she comes from a long line of witches and is the subject of a prophecy. Basically, she is the only person in the world capable of defeating the severely damaged magical being known as Jivar, but this is not a journey she can take on her her own.

After her sister’s wedding gets rudely gatecrashed by grotesque creatures not of this Earth, Echo is befriended by Vanna and Kirby, who mentor her in the ways of magic. As she negotiates the labyrinth of her new life, she falls in love with a captured baddie called Doyle and travels to other realms in her mission to save the world, all while being pursued and threatened by a supremely evil witch called Viessa.

As Echo grows and develops as a character, secrets are revealed, allegiances are switched and a cataclysmic showdown between good and evil looms. It’s all very exciting, and, as I earlier stated earlier, very beautiful.

This is a book for people who love books, for people who love fantasy and escapism, who love strong characters, who love twists and turns and rich world building. It’s a joyous labour of love from the author and an assured debut and I can’t wait to see what Yasmine has up her sleeve next. Whatever it is, I prophesise that we’re in for a treat.

Echo: The Curse of the Blackwood Witches is available from Amazon.