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1984 by George Orwell Review

This masterpiece is more relevant today then ever before

When I first read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (hence-forth referred to as 1984) I was in school, and it didn’t really hit me as anything brilliant. I found it a little dull and dreary, and the undertones didn’t mean much to me.

Now though Orwell’s dystopian vision of our future really hits home, and it scarily feels a little familiar. We live in a world where Big Brother exists and is always listening and watching, shout out to the NSA, MI6 and the CIA, also let’s not forget to say hi to your Alexa.

Orwell gave us a dark world of never ending wars, where xenophobia is the main weapon of the government, a world where refugees being shot at sea is used for movie inspirations and is cheered in cinemas across the nation. A world where the truth doesn’t truly exist, it is not “something objective, external, existing in its own right” — but instead it’s, “whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth.”

Our books hero though see’s it all a little bit differently than he should. Early on Winston Smith promises to reject the party line and instead promises to defend “the obvious” and “the true”. As he tells himself “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four,” even though his party will insist that “two and two make five”.

Within this novel Orwell gives us a dark dystopia called Oceania, a place where the government controls everything, even its own reality. Propaganda is ever present within people lives, where ridiculous tabloids and sex-filled movies are made to control them and keep their interests away from politics and history.

Books and news articles are regularly and routinely rewritten so that the past becomes a blurry mess where the truth is hidden and twisted into the parties version of reality.

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Unsurprisingly 1984 hits harder in this modern world of fake news and ‘post-truths’, a world where nationalism is on the rise and where ‘alternative facts’ are just as relevant to people than the objective truth.

This is a world not unlike Orwell’s hellish vision of 1984.

Perhaps we should all take after Winston a little more, take a look around ourselves and rebel a bit.

It is scary to see how easily our world could fall under the control of a twisted and cruel overlord, where the truth is not what we see but what we are told. A world where an ever present and omnipotent power can see and control our every waking thought and movement. A world where our very lives are in their hands.

That I think is the most frightening but power notion that Orwell presented to us in 1984. He gave a stark warning for the entirety of the human race, a warning to resist mass control and oppression, and not blindly allow it to take control.

Rating:

Rating: 10 out of 10.

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Lord of the Flies by William Golding Review

Lord of the Flies cover

During the silent but terrifying Cold War William Golding produced his masterpiece, Lord of the Flies. Not only is it a gripping tale about a group of schoolboys forced to survive on a deserted island after a plane crash, it is also a brilliant allegorical tale about the conflicts between civilization and primal savagery.

This simple and easy to understand symbolism has made Lord of the Flies on of the most popular and beloved books in the world. It is a memorable and chilling tale with characters portrayed with nuance and subtlety.

The novel focuses on a series of events that occur after a plane crash leaves a group of young schoolboys stuck on a deserted island at the height of a nuclear armageddon. It is at its heart a story of those boys shocking survival.

At the beginning the boys feel like their dreams have miraculously come true. They find themselves master of their own domain, without an annoying adult to be found. However, it doesn’t take long for them to realise they need a leader, someone to follow. The books main protagonist, a boy named Ralph, is quickly chosen to lead the group, thanks mostly in part to his popularity.

It isn’t long though before dissent begins to ferment. What appeared to be a dream situation at first quickly unravels and sinister moments quickly sprout up throughout the story.

The Lord of the Flies is a thought provoking and action-packed story of surviving against all the odds, but it’s also deeper than that.

William Golding uses his novel to explore three important aspects of human society. Human’s gravitate naturally towards social and political order, we want and need legislation and governments to have order in our society, hence the boys use of the conch and platform.

Secondly human’s are naturally inclined to being violent and savage if given the chance. This leads to a natural need for a military for defence, as shown by the boys who become hunters and then murderers.

Finally Lord of the Flies shows us that human society is naturally tuned to believe in divine interventions and supernatural beings, as shown in the sacrifices and dances the boys use to appease what they call the “beast”.

If you have never had the chance to read Lord of the Flies before now I heartily recommend you rectify that immediately.

11.22.63 by Stephen King Review

If you could go back in time and change the course of human history would you do it? Even if it meant sacrificing so much of your own life in the process?

Well that’s the premise of Stephen Kings 54th fiction book, 11.22.63.

King gives us a new protagonist in the form of Jake Epping, a high school English teacher from Lisbon Falls Maine, because of course he is. It doesn’t take long for King to uproot our heroes life and sent him hurting back through time to the world of 1958 small town America.

Gone are the cell phones and tablet computers, now Jake finds himself in a world filled with Elvis, Plymouth cars, a beautiful librarian called Sadie Dunhill, and of course a troubled loner called Lee Harvey Oswald, a man who slowly comes to dominate Jake’s life.

11.22.63 is Stephen King at something resembling his best. His prowess with weaving together political, social and popular culture into this version of baby-boom America is exquisite. The suspense is palpable across most of its many pages, not to mention its many trips through time.

King is best known for his out and out horror novels, and while this certainly isn’t a horror book it does have enough existential and psychological dread to keep the heart pounding and the mind racing.

The complexities and ethical dilemmas of time travel are well explored in 11.22.63, what will altering the past do to the future? What will it mean for Jake personally? Will he really be creating a better world or is that some naïve hope he must cling to to see his mission fulfilled?

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You see no matter how long Jake spends in the past when he returns to his own time only two minutes will have elapsed, this allows him the chance to go back in time over and over again to the same point and keep trying to change the past and the future. If something doesn’t work out to his liking, and quite often it doesn’t, he can try again, but something, perhaps the past itself, really doesn’t like being changed. The closer Jake gets to his goal the more something out their in the universe wants him to fail.

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While this was a good read, with many interesting questions to ponder, it does get bogged down a little during the middle section. Across many of the middle chapters the suspense and tension we had come to love waned slightly, never disappearing but certainly lessening its grip upon you. During this part King focuses on the romance between Jake and Sadie, which while interesting was certainly a good deal longer than it needed to be, about two hundred pages longer if I’m honest.

Once we get into the final third of the book though the action picks up once again and King does a good job at answering most of the questions he posed at the beginning. It’s a mostly satisfying conclusion which wasn’t quite worth the lengthy wait but rounded out the story nicely enough.

All in all this was a good read that I’d recommend for fans of King or time travel stories in general. Just be warned it is a long slog and the ending isn’t quite worth the time invested. King is great at creating his characters, and Jake is no exception, he’s a down on his luck teacher striving to find purpose in the mess that his life has become, he’s no larger than life hero, he’s simply a man doing what he believes is right. But not amount of interesting characters will improve the poor pacing on offer here.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

11.22.63 is available from Amazon.

Eyes of Sleeping Children by D.A. Butcher Review

D.A. Butcher comes out swinging hard with this stunning debut novel. Eyes of Sleeping Children is a psychological thriller set in the 1930’s and takes place in a depression hit Kansas that is about to bare the brunt of a giant dust storm.

The focus of this story falls squarely upon the Lockhart family, and specifically upon the father Louis. As the storm begins to attack their small family farm the Lockhart’s seek shelter in their cellar.

Eyes of Sleeping Children Cover

Yet the storm is but the beginning of this families tragedies, after awakening from a troubled night of sleep Louis finds that his son, Jesse, is missing, yet there is neither a sign of forced entry or that the young boy has left the house.

Who, or possibly what, is to blame? While Louis looks for an answer within the reality he understands, his wife begins to break down and lay the blame squarely upon a figure from the realm of nightmares, The Sandman.

Louis must work quickly if he has any hope of ever seeing his son again, he sets out on a journey that will delve into the past, and into secrets long since lost to time.

But that’s enough about the book’s plot, I really would not want to ruin this one for you.

This is a daring, but well executed, debut novel that takes a number of different genres and themes and makes them all coalesce brilliantly as the story comes to its climax.

At times this feels like a locked room thriller, while at other times it delves wonderfully into some psychological twisted world that sends shivers racing up and down your spine. And yet through all of that it somehow manages to blend and balance it very nicely with a depression era set family and their day to day struggles and drama.

The story is told through the eyes and mind of Louis Lockhart, and for the most part he is an engaging and interesting character that we as outside readers can easily empathise with. And while there are a supporting cast of mostly interesting characters it is with Louis that we are firmly embedded, both narratively and emotionally.

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As Louis frantically begins his hunt to find his missing son the book ratchets up a notch and becomes a zealous race to unravel the mysteries and discover the truth lurking in the shadows. Over time though it is Louis himself who begins to unravel and whose mind deteriorates, while this gives for some excellent character focus and really brings Louis alive and fleshes out his characterisations, it also slows down the pace of the book at points to little more than a crawl. While this is not a major issue it does make the book feel imbalanced.

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Author Spotlight: D. A. Butcher discusses his life, his struggles, and his love for writing

Author Spotlight is our series that aims to give writers a platform to talk about the artform we all love, writing. This time around D. A. Butcher joins us to talk about his life, his struggles, and his passion for writing. Check out this excellent article. I grew up in London. My mother is Italian … Continue reading “Author Spotlight: D. A. Butcher discusses his life, his struggles, and his love for writing”

However, as the story enters its final acts it rekindles the fire that had burned so brightly at its opening. In fact by the final pages this book had burnt not only itself out but me as well, there are some disturbing scenes throughout this novel that have stayed with me long after the final word has fluttered its way through my mind.

The twists and turns that lead up to the grand finale are mind bindingly well conceived and that climax, boy was that a treat to behold. Throughout most of the novel I thought I knew the truth, I thought I was an all knowing reader, but I was very much mistaken, Butcher had more than a few tricks up his sleeve to leave me feeling the fool.

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Indeed so much of this book has stayed so vividly with me that while writing this review I feel like I have only just put it down when in reality I finished this book week ago, and have read many others since then.

Not only is the story well conceived it is also very well written, Butcher has the skills and talents of a much more seasoned writer.

There are a couple of negative points though, as with any book. I think there are a few pacing errors that make the book feel unbalanced, it almost feels like there are two books wearing the trench coat of one sometimes. The dialogue can at times feel a little stilted, and I would say there are a few too many metaphors and similes used which can slow down the pace of the book somewhat, but this is me being overly pedantic and attempting to find something to balance this review.

Overall this is easily one of the best debut novels I have ever read, indeed it is one of the best psychological thrillers I have ever read period, and I will no doubt be diving back into again soon, and I sincerely implore all of you to do the same.

Rating

Rating: 10 out of 10.

If you’d like to check out Eyes of Sleeping Children for yourself, and I highly recommend you do, you can find it over on Amazon.

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Bravo Two Zero Review

We Brits seem to love heroic failures, especially when it comes to the military. The brave few standing against an incoming tide of enemy forces seems to speak to something within us.

And it’s just that love that Bravo Two Zero appeals to with its real life story of a Special Air Service patrol in the gulf war that goes disastrously wrong.

The SAS and its mysterious members are definitely venerated heroes in the eyes of the British public. Men such as Sergeant Andy McNab (real name Steven Mitchell) show both the good and bad qualities of this most skilled brotherhood of soldiers.

While McNab may be a skilled and intuitive soldier he also ignores inconvenient facts and never shows remorse for the violence he commits.

The mission outlined in Bravo Two Zero was a massive clusterfuck from the very get go.

The patrol was ill informed about weather conditions, they were landed far too close to enemy combatants and they were even given the wrong frequency for their radios.

Then everything goes even further south, and fast. McNabs squad supplied the vast majority of both SAS service personnel killed and captured during the Gulf war.

Sgt McNab is a true master of writing non-stop action mixed with brilliant irony and dark humour that keeps you flipping over page after page. It’s the kind of humour British soldiers are well known for.

During a scene where the Sgt is captured and being driven to an Iraqi jail McNab writes, “one of the blokes in front farted. It was an outrageous, really putrid bastard. That’s nice, I thought, on top of everything else I’ve now got to chew somebody else’s shit.”

For his actions during this patrol Sgt McNab who go on to recieve the Distinguished Conduct Medal, part of the shower of decorations that would befall the SAS in general.

In true British fashion they did not receive the medals for results but for the actions in heroic failure. and his patrol in particular.

Bravo Two Zero is a tale about a modern British hero, the kind of tough guy with a sense of humour that you could quite happily have a pint with down the local.

To go from being a nice quick entertaining read though into a truly strong novel it’s his flaws, and those of his comrades, that need to be expanded and explored.

Rating

Rating: 8 out of 10.

You can join Sgt McNab on his adventure on Amazon.

James Clyde and the Diamonds of Orchestra Review

James Clyde did not have the greatest start in life, as an infant he was deposited at a children’s home by his wounded, blood-soaked grandfather. As a result, he grows up under a cloud of mystery.

His grandfather remains in his life and James always visits him over the Christmas holidays, he is a rather unusual man it has to be said. It is on one such visit, when James is just eleven, that his grandfather is murdered by an evil, black clad figure who stands at the head of an army.

Finding his grandfather on his deathbed James is handed a large diamond and is instructed to keep it safe. Told that the diamond will grant him one wish Clyde uses it to escape the hunting army. James finds himself running for his life as the black clad figure and his bloodthirsty army hunt him down.

James finds himself whisked away to Orchestra, a strange land which is on the verge of being conquered by the evil Queen of a land called Darken. It turns out, in pretty predictable fashion, that James is the missing King of Orchestra and that he is the promised prophet who will one day return and lead Orchestra to safety.

James Clyde and the Diamonds of Orchestra is predominantly a children’s/Young Adults book, but it does have enough surprising twists and turns to hold anyone’s attention for the length of the novel. I found myself picking this book up any spare moment I had. It would be whipped out on the bus, over breakfast and even at the dinner table. But it was a great read and each little twist and turn was so well placed that it just made me keep reading on to find out what the truth actually was.

There is a little violence to be found in these pages, the murder of James’ grandfather being the pinnacle of it, yet most of the violence is left off the page so worried parents have no need to worry about doing their child any sort of psychological harm.

This book is beautifully well crafted with an intricate backstory and some fantastic and well paced narration which will hold a child or teenagers attention long enough to constitute as reading.

Some children nowadays do not enjoy reading as much as they should. TV and games come first for too many children. But with books like this out there they have no excuse not to pick up a book and read. This is a great story with a compelling lead character and a well envisioned world within which to escape.

Rating

Rating: 8 out of 10.

If you’d like to check out James Clyde and the Diamonds of Orchestra you can grab a paperback copy on Amazon.

Before I Go To Sleep Review

When I heard about Before I Go To Sleep I couldn’t help but think, “here we go again, it’s another simple romantic thriller with very little to offer the reader beyond a few shocks and a maybe a couple of awws.” But it wasn’t long before I realised this wasn’t just a simple copy and paste story.

Every day our dear heroine Christine wakes up not knowing where she is. Her memories disappear each time she falls asleep. Her husband, Ben, is a stranger to her, and he’s obligated to explain their life together on a daily basis, all because of a mysterious accident that sadly made Christine an amnesiac.

This book is a surprisingly complex thriller filled with intense moments of suspense. Every word of dialogue seems to have a double meaning, causing the reader to question everything they are told. Did this accident actually happen or is it all a manifestation of her own mind?

She wants to run from herself, from her new reality. The reality where she has to learn everything about her life each time she awakens. A reality with this stranger called Ben who claims to be her husband.

Most thrillers make the reader want to scream at the character on the page. Saying things like don’t go there, don’t do that, it’s him run! S.J. Watson has managed to write a book where the reader has become as clueless as the characters as to what is happening and what will happen.

But when you get to the end all the signs have been there, and you were as blind to them as Christine was. You both failed to see them, and you both feel that same sense of being lost and alone.

Like any novel this one has it’s faults as well as its shining moments. For example, in Christine’s diary that she uses to remind her of her new life there is no mention of cell phones. The last real memory she has is from her twenties when there were no mobile phones, and yet throughout the story she is constantly using her cell phone.

This is just a trivial thing of course but with a novel like this all those small overlooked details do stick out. There were more such moments throughout the novel but some are more integral to the plot so I shan’t mention them here.

This book was the author’s first published novel. It is on the whole very well written and edited. It was quickly picked up by Hollywood and was transformed into the movie of the same name starring Mark Strong, Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth.

If you want to get a copy you can head over to Amazon. I strongly recommend this novel if you fancy a good thriller.

Rating

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Helens of Troy Review

How can I best describe Helens-of-Troy to you? I could say it’s simply like Twilight but without all the crap bits in there but then that doesn’t leave any Twilight left so that would be a poor example. One other review I have seen described it as Gilmore Girls meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I have to say that’s not all that far wrong, although unlike Buffy it doesn’t make you want to scream in frustration through various points of high shrieking, poorly written plot lines.

Like Gilmore Girls, this book focuses upon the often turbulent relationships between three women, a grandmother, the mother, and the teenage daughter. Just like Rory the teenager, Ellie, is a sometimes sullen young girl struggling to break free of the barriers imposed upon her by her mother. And just like Rory she too appears to be older and wiser beyond the 15 years she has lived.

Unlike the Gilmore Girls however, it is the mother, Helen, who is the uptight woman who seems stuck in an age that has long since expired. Opposing her is the Grandmother, Helena, a rather eccentric ‘old’ woman prone to wearing revealing clothing in full view of the neighbours and entertaining a certain Police Officer in her bedroom.

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The novel begins with Helen and Ellie moving in with Helena (that’s a mouthful) in a small town called Troy. Things quickly escalate with a dead body being found on the Grandmother’s porch swing instead of the stuffed pieces of cloth being used to scare the trick-or-treaters.

Ellie doesn’t seem at all fazed by the dead body (a little strange but hey she’s probably grown up mowing things down on the Playstation), she is however slightly more scared the next morning after finding out her dream of a kidnapped young girl was actually a vision of the real event. A young girl has been taken from the town and no-one knows where she might be.

Clear panic ensues. But what Ellie isn’t telling people is that she knows who took the child. She knows the culprit is not within the realms of mortal understanding. It is a Vampire.

Now stop groaning right now otherwise I’ll put you in the naughty corner. Yes Vampires have recently been battered to death with the pen and paper of numerous writers (cough cough Meyer and Harris), and of course the money hungry corporate suits who wont be happy until they have bleed the Vampire species for all their non-existent blood. But this Vampire is different.

The Vampire inhabiting the pages of The Helen’s of Troy is very much a Dracula, Barlow esq type character who embraces his Vampire roots and has given in to the evil that inhabits his veins.

This is not some brooding ‘feel sorry for me I’m a vampire’ type ponce that has originated in recent years. This is a pure blooded daemon feasting upon children and seeking his revenge through whatever means necessary. And you know what? He’s damn funny for a dead guy.

But not all is lost. You see the Helens have a secret of their own, it is a secret the grandmother has embraced, that the mother has denied and that the daughter has yet to discover. They are special the Helens. Very special indeed. And they are the only hope against the encroaching darkness.

This book was a pleasure to read. Not only is it a nice chance from the rest of the modern Vampire drivel I’ve read but its witty and almost every chapter has one sexual innuendo or another, I laughed so often when reading this book that I started getting embarrassed with all the other people on the bus staring at me. But you know what? I don’t care. Every now and then you get a book that is so witty you can laugh at the same joke numerous times throughout the day. The jokes, the scenarios, the imagined looks on the characters faces keep screaming back into your mind throughout the day bringing a soft chuckle and a wide smile to your face. This is exactly what The Helens of Troy is. Yes there are a few grammatical and spelling mistakes that were missed during an edit but who bloody cares. I know what it’s supposed to say and 9 times out of ten its something that will rock my world.

The speech is fluid and dynamic, the description vivid and engaging, the characters funny and lovable.

I already miss Ellie’s ups and downs in making friends and falling for the local charmer. I loved old Helena and her inappropriate clothing and the mild mannered way in which she used her bosom to enthral the neighbour. And I even fell in love with Helen, she may be uptight, she may need a slap once in a while but she loves Ellie more than anything in the world and if there is one thing she can do to protect her daughter it is come to terms with the truth of who she is, and embrace it. To stop fighting the truth about what she and her family are and just go with the flow.

I loved this book and you can guarantee I will be reading it again before long. For a few days I can escape the boring monotony of the real world and once more fight alongside the Helens and get a few good laughs into the mix.

Go and grab your own copy of this book. You won’t regret it.

You can find it on Amazon here.

Rating

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Andor Awakening Review

When it comes to new authors the experience generally goes in one of two directions. More often than not you find yourself on a perilous slope that quickly puts you on your arse and sends you careering through brambles, thorns and all manner of sewage and nasty icky things. These first time writers are either too lazy or inexperienced to really unearth the true potential of what could very often be a good novel. Either that or their novel is just a really bad idea. As a reviewer these types of novels make you want to hit someone with a stick.

Anyway, without any further ado or how’s your father, let’s crack on with it.

Along with two other books I had this with novel with me when I went on holiday a few weeks back, I was finished with it in just over a day. I devoured it in almost one sitting, I even have the sunburn to prove it (blaming you for that Brendan).

I loved it, it was great read. The story line moved with such speed and ferocity that I was afraid to put it down for fear that it would all be over when I once more turned my gaze upon its pages.

This is a book that will not hook you in. No that’s not enough, this book will pretty much grab you by the neck, shake you around, and then pull you right into the war torn world of Shae.

One of the strongest points about this book though is the raw emotion that the author is able to not only put across to the reader but smash it into their face at the same time. You don’t so much read this book as experience it. From start to finish you are right there alongside the characters as they face whatever trials and tribulations are thrown at them. You are alongside Andor as he picks himself up, tries to find out who he is, what has happened to him and try’s to avoid becoming Razian pie.

The dialogue, plot and imagery is all one big thumbs up from me. This book simmers with a hidden power that is truly magnificent, not only is this book a great debut, it’s great period. A highly recommended read and I look forward to the next instalment.

You can grab your own copy of Andor Awakening from Amazon.

Rating

Rating: 9 out of 10.