Saturday, April 03, 2021

Review: Penumbra by Dan Ackerman

is a clever novel and not what I was expecting based on the previous books by Dan Ackerman that I've read, which admittedly is not their full back catalogue, although I'm working on it. The world Ackerman narrates is so complex, so different yet familiar. For this reason, there is no need for blatant world-building up front, and I'm delighted Ackerman doesn't insult the reader by going down that route. We know how capitalism works, how inherited privilege persists unchallenged. So we're thrown into the thick of reality on Eden - a space station carrying potentially all that's left of humankind - ruled by Arden, a young, entitled, drug-dependent autarch, all of which are understandable given he inherited the responsibility and Eden is unsustainable.

What I've said so far doesn't reveal much more than is given in the blurb. Of course, there's all the technology that goes with the setting of a self-sufficient space station, most of which is within the realms of the existing sci-fi canon and very much not in need of further explanation. However, it's not the setting or the technology that is at the heart of this novel; it's the society.

The playing out of power dichotomies - the transitions and shifts between the personal, social, societal, governmental - between Arden, Rhys and other predominant characters made this one of the most engaging stories I've ever read. I'm a social scientist (day job) and a socialist who usually reads escapist fiction - lighthearted, romantic, comedic, maybe some unrealistic crime-solving, nothing too dark or thought-provoking - and in truth, I rarely pick up a book like Penumbra because a) I don't do well with sci-fi in written form, and b) it's a bit of a busman's holiday reading about social structures and systems. There are few authors capable of engaging and keeping my interest for an entire novel of this kind, but Dan Ackerman can.

I enjoyed seeing Arden grow and heal - there's an element of redemption to his story, although it's less about redeeming himself than his ancestors. I also enjoyed his casual disregard for social hierarchy, some of which is down to his naivety, but Arden's morality and sense of justice are there from the outset, or that was my impression. He merely needed a call to action.

The relationships didn't pan out the way I wanted them to (really, really wanted them to), but by the end, I'd spent so much in-between-reading time trying to come up with ways of making it work without the power imbalance (which shifts so brilliantly from one player to another) that ultimately, Penumbra concludes the best way it could, all considered. But I finished reading it about a month ago (I was lucky enough to receive an advance review copy), and I still can't stop thinking about it.

So that was a bit abstract, as it always is, trying to review without spoilers. I'd love to discuss the intricacies of this novel further - I may even set up a GR discussion! For now, I'll take my hat off to Dan Ackerman and recommend this book to...well, everyone.

Buy Penumbra:

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Silk Thief (The Roshaven Series Book 2) Cover Reveal and Preorder Live

The Silk Thief (The Roshaven Series Book 2)

A Humorous Urban Fantasy Novel
coming 4th June 2021

The Blurb:

Fourteen, heir to the Empire of Roshaven, must find a new name before Theo, Lord of neighbouring Fidelia, brings his schemes to fruition.

Not only has he stolen Roshaven’s trade, but he plans to make Fourteen his own and take her empire in the bargain.

Her protector, Ned Spinks, is plagued with supernatural nightmares whilst his assistant, Jenni the sprite, has lost her magick.

Can they figure out how to thwart Theo’s dastardly plan before it’s too late for his city and her empire?


The Silk Thief is the second quirky magical mystery adventure set in the Roshaven series of humorous fantasy novels. If you like the wit and humour of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, then you’ll love The Silk Thief.

More About the Roshaven Books:

The Rose Thief, The Roshaven Series book 1

Someone is stealing the Emperor’s roses and if they take the magical red rose then love will be lost, to everyone, forever.

It’s up to Ned Spinks, Chief Thief Catcher, and his band of motely catchers to apprehend the thief and save the day.

But the thief isn’t exactly who they seem to be. Neither is the Emperor.

Ned and his team will have to go on a quest; defeating vampire mermaids, illusionists, estranged family members and an evil sorcerer in order to win the day. What could possibly go wrong?

Available in paperback and ebook everywhere:

The Interspecies Poker Tournament, Prequel Novella to The Rose Thief

Ned Spinks, Chief Thief-Catcher, has a new case. A murderous moustache-wearing cult is killing off members of Roshaven's fae community. At least that's what he's been led to believe by his not-so-trusty sidekick, Jenni the sprite. She has information she's not sharing but plans to get her boss into the Interspecies Poker Tournament so he can catch the bad guy and save the day. If only Ned knew how to play!

Available in paperback and ebook everywhere:

Ye Olde Magick Shoppe, a Roshaven short story

Join Ned Spinks, Chief Thief-Catcher, and his sidekick Jenni the sprite in this short story about an unwanted magick shoppe.

This free short story is available in ebook everywhere:

What Readers Say:

“Loved the quirky banter!”
“Entirely delightful and captivating.”
“A wonderful tribute to the Late Great Sir Terry.”
“If you are a fan of the discworld you will love this book.”
“A hilariously thrilling fantasy mystery.”

About the Author:

Claire Buss is a multi-genre author and poet based in the UK. She wanted to be Lois Lane when she grew up but work experience at her local paper was eye-opening. Instead, Claire went on to work in a variety of admin roles for over a decade but never felt quite at home. An avid reader, baker and Pinterest addict Claire won second place in the Barking and Dagenham Pen to Print writing competition in 2015 with her debut novel, The Gaia Effect, setting her writing career in motion. She continues to write passionately and is hopelessly addicted to cake.


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Review: Striking Balance by Jeanne G'Fellers

Title: Striking Balance – The Peculiar Making of Beatrice Benjamin Sophia Scott Schnell Gow
Series: Appalachian Elementals (#3)
Genre: Appalachian Paranormal Fantasy
Author: Jeanne G'Fellers
Publisher: Mountain Gap Books
Release Date: 21st July 2020

You know when you've beta-read books one and two in a series, and read the novella that came after (or, in fact, between) them, and then the author contacts you and says, "Hey, d'you fancy beta-reading book three?" Yep, that! Because, honestly, when someone writes as brilliantly as Jeanne G'Fellers does, beta-reading is a free book, and I kind of feel like I cheated the author out of a sale. Well, the least I can do is tell you what makes this novel (and series) so awesome.

So the first thing is the series itself: Appalachian Elementals is, as the title indicates, a series set in the Appalachians…featuring elemental beings, although not just elementals. The mixing and mingling of different kinds of folk, both magical and non-magical, is a major part of the charm of this series, which for the most part in books one and two is contemporary fantasy fiction. I say 'for the most part' because the world Jeanne G'Fellers has created is as much about the characters' pasts as it is their present, and when we're dealing with elemental beings, they are as ancient as the Earth itself.

Striking Balance is book three in the series, and while it is stand-alone and doesn't require prior reading of books one and two, if you do happen to read them in order, like I did, you get the buzz of recognising characters you already know waaaay in the future, as Striking Balance is historical fiction (late-1700s), in some respects lending insight to the events that take place in Keeping House (book two - read my review). This is one of my absolute favourite literary devices, where I turn into Buddy from Elf, almost bouncing in my seat and yelling, "I know him! I know him [her/them]!" at the page - or screen. I'm the same with cameos in movies and TV series (you would not believe how excited I was when Spock turned up in Discovery).

Speaking of screens, this series is another one that needs the Netflix treatment - I could waste hours imagining the CGI complexity of it all. But I digress…

Striking Balance centres on one Benjamin Schnell, who sparks into existence on page one and only grows brighter and more real as he leads us through his day-to-day life, relatively ordinary at first but becoming stranger after he is injured (damn, this is hard without giving spoilers). What I love most about Ben is that through each and every experience, new or old, terrifying or delightful, he remains deeply analytical and pragmatic. I don't mean he's emotionally cold; far from it. There were moments his narration had me sniffling back tears, still others where I couldn't help but giggle, or indeed rage at the injustice, or shriek in frustration. Ben is wry and quick-witted, soft-hearted and compassionate, but he's also a fighter, ever determined to find solutions; to succeed. But within all of that, he also has to learn to trust both himself and those around him - his close friend (soul mate) Conall in particular.

As mentioned, the cast of characters includes some I'd previously met in books one and two, and once again I can only applaud the author's stealth capacity for weaving diversity into each and every story. If we're talking LGBTQIA+, the whole rainbow's in this series, and it's seamless, subtle, just there as part of the fabric of the universe. How it should be.

Finally, there's the world-building, which is, as ever, spectacular. I'm one of the small percentage of people who can't visualise, so I can't really tell you what it looks like, but there's magic and mountains and rivers and farms and trees, so…maybe like Middle Earth with more mountains and less colour saturation? What I can tell you is I was immersed from beginning to end, literally lost in the elements.

Striking Balance is book three in the Appalachian Elementals series by Jeanne G'Fellers and is available in paperback and ebook editions.

Purchase links:

Monday, December 30, 2019

Review: Minuet by A.M. Leibowitz

Title: Minuet
Series: Notes from Boston
Author: A.M. Leibowitz
Publisher: Supposed Crimes
Release Date: 1st September 2019

Full disclosure: I beta-read Minuet (along with books 2 and 3 - Nightsong and Drumbeat), which doesn't make any difference to what I will say - I'd love this series just as much had I read it in the usual way. But it has given me an insight beyond each novel, as I've kept in mind how the various arcs fit together and developed strong feelings towards certain characters. Those feelings don't always run in line with 'heroes' and 'villains', although...the one uber villain, well, let's say he gets his comeuppance quite satisfactorily in Minuet.

Central to this instalment are the characters Mack, Amelia and Jomari, and I must admit that I still don't feel I know Jomari as well as the other two, purely because I've known him for a shorter period of time. In some ways, he's more closed off than Mack, although there's an interesting on-page dynamic that hints at Jomari's greater openness in the company of some more than others. just wonderful. True, in Minuet she has moments where she wobbles a bit (understandably) but in so doing reminds us that she is human after all, as she's usually so strong, wise and dependable. It was good to see that other aspect of her personality.

And then there's...Mack. Oh, Mack. I really didn't care much for him - for two whole novels! But the way he supported his friends in Drumbeat picked holes in my ambivalence, and by around the midpoint of Minuet I could honestly have read an entire novel focused on him.

Along the way, we drop in on the characters from the previous novels, which is one of my favourite things to read - much like cameos of characters from one book appearing in another, although in Notes from Boston they're all part of the same crowd, so they're always there in the background.

Best of all? The characters are queer - in all flavours - which is wonderful! Minuet, like the rest of the Notes from Boston series, showcases romance, love, friendship, family and everything else that goes into a substantial slice of life, through rainbow-tinted lenses. And music, of course.

Minuet possibly works as a stand-alone read, but I recommend reading the series in order to get the full benefit of watching the characters and their relationships evolve and deepen.

I've linked the books/series titles to the publisher's pages, but here are some more links for where you can buy Minuet:

Amazon • Barnes and Noble • Kobo • iBooks

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Not My Christmas - novella out today #HBTC #bisexual #women #romance #ownvoices

Not My Christmas by Debbie McGowan
Published: 25th December, 2019
Length: 18,000 words (approx.)
99c from Smashwords • Amazon

Christmas at the Davenports has never been a relaxing affair, so when the opportunity for a little alone time with a beautiful, available woman comes Charlie Davenport’s way, she takes it, breaking several family traditions and risking the wrath of her siblings. But it’ll be worth it, right? And she can always make it up to them later…or next Christmas.

A stand-alone story from the world of Hiding Behind The Couch.

LGBTQ+, ownvoices, romance, family, bisexual women, Christmas, humour

Monday, December 09, 2019

Rainbow Award for The Great Village Bun Fight

Woot! My 2018 novella The Great Village Bun Fight won an award this weekend. :)

The Rainbow Awards are an annual/bi-annual event, run by Elisa Rolle, celebrating LGBTQ+ books across all genres.

Entrants make a donation to an LGBTQ+ charity of their choosing, and this year, the awards raised over $12,000.

A huge thank you to Elisa for all her hard work and dedication to the awards and the contributions they make, not just to writers and readers but to the LGBTQ+ community.

All’s fair in love and war. But not in baking.

A humorous story about baking and village life. Also includes a rockin' reverend, cakes and bunting.

Do what you do best.

So said Henry’s grandad a year ago to the day as he handed Henry a small, red-foil-wrapped box that gave a metallic rattle when he shook it. Inside: a large bunch of mismatched keys held together by a ring the size of a bangle.

The keys to the bakery.

Henry’s bakery.

No going back. Definitely not after Margaret changed the sign on her shop so it read:

THE Village Bakery & Grocery
Home of the Banton Bun

Not THE Banton Bun, mind you—Margaret doesn’t have the Joneses’ secret family recipe—but a reasonable approximation.

As for Henry doing what he does best… Henry Jones the Ninth is no baker, that’s for sure. He wouldn’t even know how to assemble a Banton Bun, let alone bake one. But he does know his way around computers, accounts, managing staff and stock inventory. And he rides a mean tricycle.

You might wonder how that could be a good thing. Read on, and all will be revealed.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Fifty at fifty! Meredith's Dagger

OK, so I missed it by a few minutes in BST as it's technically now the 21st August, but let's assume it's still the 20th for me as it still is for many of you.

Today I released Meredith's Dagger - my fiftieth novel - on my fiftieth birthday! Both of those facts are quite hard to believe. I made it to fifty! Woot! And fifty books? Well, I wrote most of them in the last ten years, not sure how...

I'm going to keep this short and give a little background to Meredith's Dagger, which I originally wrote in 2011 but then set it aside while I did further research into the relevant local history. Then I got caught up in all that research and it was a bit overwhelming, so I let it rest awhile to work on other books.

I've come back to it several times over the years since and made it through the first few chapters before I reached the point where I wanted to slap Julian - you'll reach that point too, but he's not so bad really once you get to know him. ;)

This year, I've essentially rewritten the entire novel - expanded the characters so they're deeper and more well-rounded. I've also fictionalised the setting, so whilst a lot of that historical research underpins the events, the entire work is fictional with a few 'inspired by reality' moments. Well, the bit about the cholera epidemic is true.

I hope you find Meredith's Dagger entertaining first and foremost, but there are some important historical truths within the story too, relating to the treatment of women in general and specifically within psychiatry.

On that note, I'd like to acknowledge and thank a few people, not least Vicki Coppock, my lecturer for the Politics of Mental Health, whose teaching provided the empirical evidence for what I had long believed was wrong with psychiatry and taught me the real 'art' of feminist critical thinking. Thank you also to Andrea, Nige, Amy, David, Michael and Jor for polishing this novel into the shiny, lovely thing it is, and for your encouragement and support. You are wonderful!

I'll post again later in the week and share jewellery sketches by Emma Pickering, which I'd hoped to include in the book. Alas I couldn't clean up the images, and the originals have been lost to the passage of time.

I was keeping this short, so I'll leave you with the purchase links:
BTP eBook:
BTP Paperback:

Thanks for reading!
Deb x