Category: Reviews

Epeolatry Book Review: Daughters of Darkness by Theresa Derwin, Ruschelle Dillon, Stephanie Ellis & Alyson Faye

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Title: Daughters of Darkness
Author: Theresa Derwin, Ruschelle Dillon, Stephanie Ellis, Alyson Faye
Genre: Horror 
Publisher: Black Angel Press
Release Date: 12th Feb, 2021

Synopsis: A quartet of established female horror writers from both sides of the Atlantic have joined supernatural forces to bring you – Daughters of Darkness – a publication from the women-run indie press Black Angel.These stories will take you across the centuries, from Whitechapel to New Orleans, from dark humour to Gothic, weaving the weird with the macabre.Within these pages, meet the myriad monsters these female writers have conjured, letting them loose to roam and cast long shadows.Beware – this is only the beginning …

With a forward from Lee Murray, four writers offer a selection of 20 varying works within this anthology. Stephanie Ellis gives 2 longer stories, while the remaining 3 women penned six pieces.

Theresa Derwin leads the collection of includes poetry and shorts. She authored two original takes on the victims of Jack the Ripper, and explore who-really-done-it. “Isolation” examines the gloom and the weight of our toughest decisions. “Tummy Bug”, my pick from her stories, told a relatable and alienating narrative regarding women’s reproductive system (a neatly packaged body horror). 

Ruschelle Dillon’s witty and gruesome writing…let’s just say I won’t look at cats the same way again. Dillon gives the reader a haunting and biting example of jealousy, a journalist who fails to heed warnings, mental illness accompanying a dollhouse, one hell of a Halloween party, and my favorite—song tunes which humor the tale of life and death between a hatchling and a moth. 

Stephanie Ellis’s longer yarns, “Painted Ladies” and “Beyond Hope”, added not only variety, but depth. Ellis peels away the masks and the lengths women go to retain their beauty—its painful love and loss. She explores corporate irresponsibility and the buried emotions of human connection. I favored “Beyond Hope” with its flavors of Dante’s Inferno and the movie Poltergeist.

Alyson Faye’s poetry and stories kept me turning pages even though my dinner sat waiting on the table. I heard scratching noises in the walls, I met a dandy of a ventriloquist and his creepy fiend, and I visited a family in a ghost town. Her western horror, “The Blasted Tree” was my favorite of Faye’s, and it brought to mind several photographs I have of gangly trees growing amongst nothing else in the barren desert. 

Women have a unique perspective on horror. Most females have a talent with body horror. All four of these writers deserve a place on everyone’s bookshelf.

5 out of 5 stars

Available from Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Till We Become Monsters by Amanda Headlee

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Title: Till We Become Monsters
Author: Amanda Headlee
Genre: Supernatural Thriller/YA
Publisher: Woodhall Press
Release Date: 1st June, 2021

Synopsis: Monsters exist and Korin Perrin knew this as truth because his grandmother told him so. Korin, raised in the shadow of his older brother Davis, is an imaginative child who believes his brother is a monster. After the death of their grandmother, seven-year-old Korin, blaming Davis for her demise, tries to kill him. Sixteen years following the attempt on Davis’ life, racked with guilt, Korin comes to terms with the fact that Davis may not be the one who is the monster after all.

Past wrongs needing to be righted, Korin agrees to a hunting trip with his brother and father. But they, along with two friends, never make it to their destination. An accident along the way separates the hunters in the dark forests of Minnesota during the threat of an oncoming blizzard. As the stranded hunters search for each other and safety, an ancient evil wakes.

I tend to judge a book’s reading potential by its cover. Till We Become Monsters cover design—a rendering of a recognizable antlered skull dripping with danger—earns 5 stars. 

Family history and jealousy are the bones to this monster, the children are its flesh. 

Korin Perrin is a little boy who’s quite aware that monsters are real. So says his grandmother, who is quite the storyteller. Set in small-town Minnesota with a population of just 278, Korin’s older brother Davis is a brat; no spoiler there. Korin had a special relationship with his grandmother. It has abruptly ended. And Korin blames Davis. 

Headlee does a great job setting her account. I feel myself getting comfortable in Grandfather’s leather reading chair. I hear Grandmother’s tone, and her love for Korin. Minnesota’s cold, cold winter, which bodes well for any thriller, made shiver and reach for my blanket.

As with any good story, I was pulled from the comfort of my chair into the dark world of changelings, wendigo, and bears–oh my! A lot happens within this tale that I can’t discuss due to spoilers. There are woods and there are hunters. I will tell you there’s a twist—I do love twists! Headlee’s novel (her first, by the way) is an easy read, and it’s not laden with a huge cast. Good dialogue, and plenty of action to keep you reading. I read a galley copy so I won’t refer to any typos or formatting issues.  

4 out of 5 stars

Available from  Bookshop and Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: I Would Haunt You If I Could by Sean Padraic Birnie

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Title: I Would Haunt You if I Could
Author: Seán Padraic Birnie
Genre: Ghost Fiction
Publisher: Undertow Publications
Release Date: 23rd March, 2021

Synopsis: I would haunt you …

The debut short story collection from Seán Padraic Birnie does indeed haunt. Sown with seeds of sorrow and grief, and imbued with disquieting bodily horrors, the tales in “I Would Haunt You if I Could” are the product of an uncanny and febrile imagination. Birnie’s writing balances on the knife’s edge of the horror and literary divide. Stories that cut and bleed. Stories that linger and haunt.

…if I could.

I Would Haunt You If I Could by Sean Padraic Birnie

The debut collection from Sean Padraic Birnie, is truly a sublime, though disconcerting work. Each story ripe with fresh hauntings and the vestiges of unsettled regrets and memories. Enmeshed with themes of grief, despair, and loss, this will be a collection that will go on to haunt your mind for long after you have read the last story. Simultaneous literary and genre, Birnie straddles many tones throughout this collection, all to great effect, but all successfully bring you further into eerie territory. 

Interspersed between longer stories, such as the title story or “Out of the Blue”, there are smaller fictions that truly increase the uncanny feeling that we have found a place both familiar and unfamiliar–an in-between place that resonates as much as alienates us. Stories “Like a Zip” and “Dollface” unpack themes of regret, like the wife in the former story, who pulls and pulls at a hangnail, to horrifying results. The latter story attempts to reflect on a couple’s miscarriage and how each turn inwards to address or not address that loss.

A favorite for myself was “Out of the Blue” where the narrator’s father is buried, but appears at his doorstep, as if he never died, weeks after the funeral. A story of working through grief, letting go, and the embarrassment of dealing with loss are seamlessly captured throughout this story. Birnie visceral captures those feelings with lines like when the narrator debates telling his wife about his father’s “return”: “Because the second you let another person into a situation like this, the second you begin to talk about it, it becomes real.” And how bitter that reality is.

Time passes, life keeps going, yet the father remains, a silent reminder that looms in the house. Grief is like this and it continues to be like this until you finally deal with it, which the narrator does over the course of the story, at the behest of his wife. 

“When someone close to you dies and the most private aspects of their life evaporate with the cessation of their minds, other parts spill out into the world, and it falls to you to gather those things, moving through the hidden spaces of their life, suddenly and rudely privy to some of their innermost mysteries.” 

The story is a remarkable meditation, if not forbidding, tale of what becomes of our loved ones when they pass and how we are left behind.

The real hero of this collection is Birne’s breathless poetics that give life to each story. Each are filled with their own existential dread, yet falls upon your ears with gentle beauty. Much like the far away rumble of a distant thunderstorm.

A brilliant collection from an author that seems to only have potential for more, I WOULD HAUNT YOU IF I COULD is a release not to miss this spring or really any part of this year. Literary, existential horror, and weird readers should rejoice, but anyone who wants an exploration of their deeper darker selves would be rewarded for picking it up. 

My thanks to Michael Kelly at Undertow Publications for providing the e-ARC to me. 

Available from  Bookshop and Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Best of R. A. Lafferty by R. A. Lafferty

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Title: The Best of R. A. Lafferty
Author: R.A. Lafferty
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Tor Trade
Release Date: 2nd Feb, 2021

Synopsis: Acclaimed as one of the most original voices in modern literature, a winner of the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement, Raphael Aloysius Lafferty (1914-2002) was an American original, a teller of acute, indescribably loopy tall tales whose work has been compared to that of Avram Davidson, Flannery O’Connor, Flann O’Brien, and Gene Wolfe.

The Best of R. A. Lafferty presents 22 of his best flights of offbeat imagination, ranging from classics like “Nine Hundred Grandmothers” and “The Primary Education of the Cameroi” to his Hugo Award-winning “Eurema’s Dam.”

Introduced by Neil Gaiman, the volume also contains story introductions and afterwords by, among many others, Michael Dirda, Samuel R. Delany, John Scalzi, Connie Willis, Jeff VanderMeer, Kelly Robson, Harlan Ellison, Michael Swanwick, Robert Silverberg, Neil Gaiman, and Patton Oswalt.

Lafferty’s newest short story collection includes introductions by other notable science fiction writers, such as: Neil Gaiman, Samuel R. Delany, John Scalzi, and others.  

Raphael Aloysius Lafferty, from Tulsa Oklahoma, was known as the Bard of Tulsa. He worked as an electrical engineer, and his friends called him Ray. Upon retiring at 45 years old, he became a professional writer. A Catholic and an alcoholic, Ray says, “When I was younger I got a lot of pleasure and companionship out of drinking, but probably no creative impetus. Drinking has influenced my writing all in the wrong direction.”

“Day of the Glacier,” (sadly, not included in this anthology) was Lafferty’s first published science fiction story. He was 46 years old. “It didn’t put me on easy street, but it put me on easy alley,” said Lafferty of his writing. “I was moderately successful.”  Lafferty is what I would call a foundation writer. An influence on more famous writers but not a household name like Rodenberry, Asimov, or Gaiman.  His works draw from Irish and Native American tales to the writings of St. Theresa.

Lafferty’s distinctive style — he loves proper names and alliteration. Basil Bagelbaker, Maxwell Mouser, Willy McGilly, and Arpad Arkabaranan are but a few tongue twisters encountered in these stories. Lafferty employs tall telling, using deadpan humor and adding the surreal. Consider this passage from the “Narrow Valley.”

“He’s getting better at it, Mr. Dublin,” Mary Mabel said. “He was a twin till last week. His twins name was Skinny. Mamma left Skinny unguarded while she was tippling, and there were wild dogs in the neighborhood. When Mama got back, do you know what was left of Skinny? Two neck bones and an ankle bone. That was all.”

“Poor Skinny,” Dublin said, “Well, Rampart, this is the fence and the end of my land. Yours is just beyond.”  

“Is that ditch on my land?” Rampart asked.

“That ditch is your land.”

One thing I like about a book like this — it satisfies my itch for science fiction stories, and my writer’s itch. I love books that include the authors thought process, commentary, and in this case why and how these stories influenced them on their writing journey. This anthology also contains Lafferty’s Hugo winning story “Eurema’s Dam.”

Terry Bison said, “For Lafferty is that most tender. wretched, and essential of creatures, the writers’ writer: celebrated by, beloved of, but mostly visible only to his own proud, primitive tribe.”  I would encourage you to add The best of r.a. lafferty to your collection. 

I give this book 4 out of 5

Available from  Bookshop and Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Spawn: Weird Horror Tales about Pregnancy, Birth and Babies, ed. Deborah Sheldon

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Title: Spawn: Weird Horror Tales about Pregnancy, Birth and Babies
Author: Various, ed. Deborah Sheldon
Genre: Horror
Publisher: IFWG Publishing International
Release Date: 3rd May, 2021

Synopsis: A selection of the darkest Australian fiction. Spawn: Weird Horror Tales About Pregnancy, Birth and Babies taps into anxieties, painful memories, and nightmares. Here, your worst fears come true. Penned by established authors and fresh new voices, these stories range from the gothic and phantasmagorical, through the demonic and supernatural, to the dystopian and sci-fi. Prepare for a visceral, frightening read. Featuring work by: Geraldine Borella, Jack Dann, Rebecca De Visser, Jason Fischer, Rebecca Fraser, Gary Kemble, David Kuraria, Paul Mannering, Tracie McBride, Samantha Murray, Robyn O’Sullivan, Antoinette Rydyr, Deborah Sheldon, Charles Spiteri, H.K. Stubbs, Matt Tighe, J.M. Merryt, Kat Pekin, Mark Towse, Ash Tudor, Kaaron Warren, Janeen Webb, and Sean Williams.

I haven’t had many opportunities in recent years to get acquainted with the work of Australian horror writers, whose names (with the exception of editor Deborah Sheldon, Jack Dann, Kaaron Warren, and Sean Williams, who are among the contributors to the present anthology) are mostly unknown to me. Which is a shame because, as this book proves, there are many Australian authors deserving a wider recognition beyond their country’s borders.

The volume collects twenty-three stories addressing the unusual theme in a variety of angles, atmospheres, and tones. Commenting upon each single tale is clearly impossible, hence I will mention the ones which seem the more accomplished.

“A Good Big Brother” by Matt Tighe is a tense, apocalyptic story where people are transformed by a mysterious disease, and a young boy must learn how to protect his mother and his baby brother. 

“The Still Warm” by Paul Mannering is a powerful example of graphic horror portraying the horrible fate of a pregnant woman surviving a hanging and finding herself buried alive inside a coffin.

The unsettling “Beneath the Cliffs of Darknoon Bay” by Rebecca Fraser takes place in the lonesome atmosphere of a lighthouse and depicts how the sheer madness of a pregnant woman gets tragically loose.

Robyn O’ Sullivan’s “Expel the Darkness” is the vivid description of an ill-fated pregnancy ending with a terrifying labor at home, while Deborah Sheldon’s “Hair and Teeth” is a disquieting tale of medical horror featuring a woman with uterine troubles.

In the well-crafted “Mother Diamond” by Janeen Webb a woman is haunted in many ways by the spirit of her late, domineering mother.

Charles Spiteri contributes “The Remarkable Compass for Finding the Departed”, a gentle, sad but disturbing tale revolving around a restless stillborn child, while JM Merryt pens “Gravid”, a dark, subtly unnerving fairy tale (contrary to what the narrator declares…)

All in all, an interesting anthology of horror fiction, graced by some little gems apt to effectively entertain and disquiet the reader.

4/5 stars

Available from  Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: The Guide of All Guides by Angelique Fawns

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Title:The Guide of all Guides
Author: Angelique Fawns
Genre: Nonfiction
Publisher: Angelique Fawns
Release Date: 8th Jan, 2021

Synopsis: Acclaimed as one of the most original voices in modern literature, a winner of the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement, Raphael Aloysius Lafferty (1914-2002) was an American original, a teller of acute, indescribably loopy tall tales whose work has been compared to that of Avram Davidson, Flannery O’Connor, Flann O’Brien, and Gene Wolfe.

This ultimate guide answers all your questions.
Which magazines, ezines, and podcasts pay the most?
What are the editors looking for?
How long do I have to wait to hear back?
What sort of rejection letter will I receive?
Easy to use and organized in order of who pays the most, find out which magazines, ezines and podcasts are buying in today’s market.

Angelique Fawns has submitted, been accepted and rejected by many horror, sci-fi and fantasy editors over the years. 500 rejections. But 30 of her pieces have found homes. She puts that knowledge to our use in her book. Not only does she share places that she has submitted to but she also shared possible venues for the writer that she hasn’t. The venues she has submitted to she shared her experiences with them. But with all the entries she gives a complete and concise listing of what the editor and publication are looking for as well as what the writer can expect in return. That isn’t just monetary return either. This included response time as well as if the editor gives helpful suggests versus sending a form letter rejection.

The entries are complete and concise. The digital copy includes a direct link to the site being discussed so if you feel that your piece is a fit for that magazine you don’t have to do a cute and paste into your search engine. Fawns has done an excellent job of pooling her resources to share.

In the preface she lays out what the reader/writer can expect from her book. From there on it is up to the reader/writer to pick and chose what to read. She has listed the top paying markets (as of the writing) as well as suggestions about the best way to go about submitted your work to each venue.

My only complaint is purely aesthetic. I have my copy on my Kindle and since I read mostly in bed with it my Kindle is set up in dark mode (black background with white type). In that mode the links and table of contents are barely readable as they show up in a red font. However if I change back to traditional background (white with black type) everything shows up perfectly. All in all it is a well written and researched book. I highly recommend it!

Available from  Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: The Tower of Raven by Kevin M. Folliard

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Title: Tower of Raven
Author: Kevin M. Folliard 
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Publisher: Demain Publishing
Release Date: 31st Dec, 2020

Synopsis: In a fairy tale world, 17-year-old Prince Cedrick thirsts for adventure, romance, and an escape from the pressures of his overbearing mother, the Queen Regent. Cedrick’s older brother Roderick bas been recently crowned king, and his mother now plots to have her second born wed to a suitable noble woman.

Cedrick’s childhood friend Garth urges him to “sow a few wild oats,” while he still can, and sends him on a quest after a beautiful long-haired maiden, trapped in a tower beyond the haunted place known as Crows Town. In the deserted misty streets of Crows Town—formerly the Kingdom of Cherrywood—Cedrick encounters the spirit of an ancient witch who summons a murder of crows, kills his horse, and sends him wounded into the forest on the other side of the mountains.

The siren song of Raven, the witch’s adopted daughter, draws Cedrick to her tower. Broken and weak, however, he finds himself unable to climb to her rescue, and instead hoisted upward by enchanted tendrils of long dark hair.

Under the power of Raven’s healing magic, Cedrick experiences an awakening…but whether that awakening is for good or for evil…you’ll have to read ‘Tower Of Raven’ to find out…

Prince Cedrick, more interested in discovering true romance than in feigning interest in the young girl his mother proposed for him, is convinced by his best friend to sneak out of the kingdom and sow his oats.  But where will he go?  The first of several vivid dreams happens.  Enter the fairy tale.

A damsel in distress, trapped in a tower beyond a forlorn ghost town.  Traversing the once splendid town of Cherrywood, now aptly nicknamed Crow’s Town, offered Cedrick a challenge he craved.  

Crow’s Town – desolate and dilapidated.  Ghost town or gauntlet?  Crows, first nowhere, then everywhere.  A spooked horse, an old hag, and a threatening warning about Princess Raven in the tower – Cedrick tackled more than birds on his journey.

The mystical hair endowed onto the maiden proved to be its own formidable character.  Folliard’s descriptions of color and texture and intricate movement bestowed upon his readers a coiffure practically human.  Rapunzel had nothing on Princess Raven.  No hindrance was greater than Cedrick’s desire for she-who-adorned the magical mane.  Would his own fairy tale come true?  Would he rescue Raven and spend happily ever after with her?  Was she all that she appeared to be, or had the old hag foretold the truth?

The pressures Cedrick encountered often came after a dream scene, seven of them, and sometimes those scenes gave too much away and weakened the real-time action.  The dreams were powerful and foreboding, but by Chapter 10, it hit me that the story felt unbalanced because real time took a back seat to dream scenes.  It was the only thing that kept it from earning five stars.

It didn’t stop me from falling in love with fairy tales again, in a sadistic kind of way.  The obstacles to Folliard’s protagonist were far more harrowing than many that have come before Tower of Raven.  I was plagued with a feeling of doom as I read this story, sprinkled with just enough delight and sweetness to make me think – for quick moments – that the skeletons and destruction might not be so bad.  I finished the story yearning to read more “fairy tales” a la Folliard.

4.5 stars

Available from  Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: The Searching Dead by Ramsey Campbell

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Title: The Searching Dead
Author: Ramsey Campbell
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Publisher: Flame Tree Press
Release Date: 16th Feb, 2021

Synopsis:1952. On a school trip to France teenager Dominic Sheldrake begins to suspect his teacher Christian Noble has reasons to be there as secret as they’re strange. Meanwhile a widowed neighbour joins a church that puts you in touch with your dead relatives, who prove much harder to get rid of. As Dominic and his friends Roberta and Jim investigate, they can’t suspect how much larger and more terrible the link between these mysteries will become. A monstrous discovery beneath a church only hints at terrors that are poised to engulf the world as the trilogy brings us to the present day…

I have read Ramsey Campbell over the years, along with other authors published by indie horror press Flame Tree (launched in 2018). I’ve enjoyed them.

So, when the opportunity came to review Campbell’s latest—I leapt at it, albeit with mental reservation; I am not a trilogy reader. The subtitle The Three Births of Daoloth did recall to mind a Tom Baker ‘Dr Who’ 1970’s episode (nothing wrong with that either—I loved Baker as the time travelling Dr).

When I reached the end of The Searching Dead, it’s fair to say I still wasn’t certain who or what Daoloth was, which felt like a bit of a let-down and a swizzle.

For me, this was a book of two halves. I enjoyed, very much, the set up and back drop of 1950’s Liverpool (where my parents lived and grew up) but the second half, which I kept hoping would deliver more horror or a bit more supernatural oomph at least, for me it didn’t. And by the last few chapters I’d given up hope and therefore lost interest. It’s fairly clear Campbell’s novel is Book 1; everything is being set up. But nothing is being explained or resolved, merely hinted. There’s only so much hinting you can do over 240-odd pages without losing this reader’s interest.

So, the pluses: Liverpool, grey, and dreary in 1952, still in the grip of rationing. It is meticulously realised and clearly vivid in Mr Campbell’s personal memory. The city stands out as another character in its own right, including the cinemas the teenage protagonists (the self-titled Tremendous Three) patronise and the roads and parks they explore. 

Being a keen film buff, I did spot the odd implied inaccuracy – e.g. the 1953 film, From Here to Eternity won Best Supporting Actor/Actress Oscars not the two top Best Actor/Actress awards, much to Hollywood star Burt Lancaster’s chagrin. 

The engaging main protagonist, the teenage Dominic Sheldrake—who narrates the story—is a likeable, observant, thoughtful lad whose anxieties and obsessions leap off the page. Dominic attends a Catholic upper school run by strict monks; he gives a fair amount of discussion regarding religion—how it should be taught, how it’s perceived, but is actually lived and practiced by the adults. Dominic also worries a lot about telling lies and defining the shades of truth.

One teacher in particular bothers young Sheldrake more and more—Christian Noble. Noble organises a history trip to the WW1 battlefields of France after his aged father tells creepy stories at a school assembly about a field in France which seems to have an evil energy of its own. Noble has his own agenda—the scenes where he pushes his toddler daughter, Tina, around the graveyard/park in her pushchair whilst having strangely adult conversations with her—those scenes fairly hum off the page with spookiness. The school trip to France is another highlight with Dominic and friends stalking their teacher on his weird night-time activities.

Noble preaches at a local church and has enticed Dominic’s near neighbour, Mrs Norris, a lonely widow, to join the congregation. It is Mrs Norris whose character eludes, opaquely hints—but never directly—about how she is now ‘enjoying’ the company of the late Mr Norris, whom Mr Noble has brought back in some way. The scenes in the Norris’ tiny terrace are very effective, claustrophobic, and unnerving.

Dominic’s staunchly religious parents are horrified but cannot deny the terrible disintegration which befalls Mrs Norris. They believe it’s merely spiritualism, but Dominic comes to suspect a much darker truth about Mr Noble’s church.

At times, when the teens are in full Famous Five P.I. mode, the story reads more like an Enid Blyton adventure than a horror novel. After a while it does get a bit boring: all the teen chats, the night stalking, the eavesdropping… and nothing much happening. Even if the dead are back, we never see them or get much idea of them doing anything—well, as yet. Obviously there two more books to come. I won’t be returning for Books 2 and 3.

However, as always, Mr Campbell’s stylish writing and clever and elliptical use of language is a master class in itself.

Another issue for me was the patchy editing/proofreading. There were typos and frequent incorrect punctuation, especially with the layout of speech.

So, four stars for the writing, half a star taken off for the errors and slapdash proofing. Sorry, but it does matter to this reader.

Many thanks to Flame Tree Press for supplying a hard back copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Available from Bookshop and Amazon.