December Raves: Book Review: The Iron Line by L. M. Merrington


Digital: 177 pages

Published by PAC books


“There’s a ghost train that runs along here at night. They say it carries the souls of those bound for hell.”

Jane Adams is only twenty-three, but she’s already a widow. A daughter of the railway, after her husband’s death she takes a job as a level crossing gatekeeper in the little town of Tungold, out at the end of the line. But all is not right in Tungold. The townspeople are frosty and unwelcoming, and Jane’s only ally is the new young police constable, Alec Ward, an outsider just like her.

When a railway official is murdered, Jane and Alec become determined to get to the bottom of the town’s secrets. Who killed Brian Mathieson? And what is behind the mysterious ghost train? But Jane is also hiding a secret of her own — one that will put her life and everything she cares about on the line.


Set in the late 1800’s in the fictional town of Tungold, a small country town in rural Australia, The Iron Line is a murder mystery with an air of Australian Gothic.

Newly widowed Jane Adams arrives from Goulburn as the new level-crossing gatekeeper and is warned of a mysterious ghost train that rattles along the line in the dead of night. Unwilling to believe in ghosts, Jane soon finds she has more pressing concerns in the mundanity of everyday life and in finding her place in a small town with more than its fair share of politics and prejudice. That is, of course, until the murder…

Jane can’t resist either the mystery of the train or the mystery of the murder, and soon teams up with the handsome Constable Ward, although her blossoming relationship is rightly complicated by her memories of her late husband.

Jane is an outspoken and enjoyable heroine. A feminist and self-professed bully-hater, she’s a likeable and relatable if somewhat mysterious character. Jane’s past is deftly handled by the author, gently feeding us the smallest titbits of her history and how she came to Tungold.

Although Tungold is fictional, Merrington’s historical research is such to breathe life and authenticity into the small town and its inhabitants. In fact, The Iron Line offers plenty of historical commentary as Jane faces many of the hardships of a single woman in rural Australia in the late 19th century – monetary worries, social ostracism, sexism, snakes and spiders, the endless chores that existed before vacuum cleaners, refrigerators and motor cars, as well as a pervasive sense of danger that comes from living isolated and alone.

Merrington makes the most of Jane’s isolation, and Jane’s home on the outskirts of town beside the railway gives ample opportunity for her to be awakened by the spectral, creepy locomotive: ‘The locomotive was black, I thought, but glowed with a strange, eerie luminescence, independent of the moonlight…Mr Bailey had said there was no driver, but as I peered towards the cabin I caught sight of someone. Then he turned towards me and I thrust my hands into my mouth to stifle a scream…’

The Iron Line is great length too, and I’m so glad too for the digital age which has once again made the 60,000-word murder-mystery a viable exercise (after all, Agatha Christie herself is said to have supported 50,000 words as the perfect length for a murder-mystery). The Iron Line feels fresh and fast-paced without any unnecessary padding or spurious sub-plots to slow down the main story.

It has a fantastic twist at the end too. Gripping from start to finish with plenty to love from the painstaking historical research, to the nod to Boldrewood’s Captain Starlight, to the enjoyable and well-handled mystery plot, this novel should definitely be joining you for holiday reading.

Highly recommended.

You can get it here on Amazon 

or click here for links to your other favourite retailers (itunes, nook, etc)


Reviewing the Classics: Wuthering Heighs by Emily Bronte revisited

wuthering heights

Hi all,

So I went to a live taping a couple of weeks back of a show called The Book Club. It was a great show – Paul Kelly sang a sonnet, and there was much discussion about a little book you might have heard of called Wuthering Heights. The discussion got heated, especially when it came to Heathcliff. For a full recap of how things went down, I’d definitely recommend stopping by Right or Wrong for a very funny, and entirely scientific analysis of the show here.

In the spirit of the debate, and since I haven’t read Wuthering Heights since I skimmed it in second-year university (nearly 20 years ago) I gave it a slightly less skimmed re-read, and what follows is my review:

This classic tale, set on the northern moors of England, has long been acclaimed as a both a torrid tale of passionate love and revenge, and a masterpiece of English literature. The main protagonist, Heathcliff, is considered by many to be one of the most smoking-hot villains to ever grace the page. A large part of it is probably because of his depictions in film looking like this:


And this:


And more recently this:


Ahh Ralph Fiennes…

Yes, they are all very attractive men. But let’s move on shall we? Back to the book.. ahem. I have to say on my rereading of the novel (handsome men above aside), I really struggled to find any attraction to the dark, brooding, taciturn man who essentially tortures and ruins his family.

While the writing of Emily Bronte’s only novel still holds its haunting beauty, and Bronte’s descriptions of the moors are so evocative that one feels as though they are standing upon them, what really stood out to me about this novel on a reread of this book are two things:

  1. The utterly restrictive social status of women during the Regency/Victorian age. As women of any standing (and Catherine, I believe, is landed gentry) were not permitted to work, were given very little education and could often not inherit, a woman’s standing and her future were entirely dictated by an agreeable marriage.
  2. The alarmingly violent intergenerational cycle of physical and emotional abuse (particularly of women, servants, and children) perpetuated by all the protagonists throughout the novel. Heathcliff is a wife beater. Hindley throws his own child over a railing in a fit of drunken rage and shoves a knife between his servant’s teeth. Hindley’s child grows up to be a violent adult. Even more telling, these brutal acts were not dwelt upon by the narrator but accepted as a matter of course.

So, in revisiting this novel, I feel that my age and a modern lense have served to lessen its appeal. As far as Heathcliff goes, I found him thoroughly unlikeable; grumpy, physically and verbally violent, grudge-holding, vengeful and spiteful, and worse – completely unrepentant (except perhaps where his Cathy is concerned). There’s a term in modern romance called: the’Alphahole’ – an Alpha character who is so utterly Alpha, that he is actually a massive jerk. It does seem that Heathcliff appeals to younger women – perhaps he could be considered the pioneer of the YA ‘Hero.’

But what do you think – does Heathcliff still set a fire in your loins?

May Review Raves: Soulless by Gail Carriger and Mythmaker by Marianne De Pierres

I’ve got two books to add to your must-read pile this month (if you haven’t read them already). Both on these books sit on the fringes of the fantasy genre. Both are utterly fabulous and worth an immediate read. First up:

Mythmaker by Marianne De Pierres


Genre: Urban Fantasy / Sci-fi / Western

Details: 320 pages, published 2015 by Angry Robot

Blurb: Virgin’s in a tight spot. A murder rap hangs over her head and isn’t likely to go away unless she agrees to work for an organisation called GJIC with Nate Sixkiller as her immediate boss. Being blackmailed is one thing, discovering that her mother is both alive and the President of GJIC is quite another. Then there’s the escalation of Mythos sightings, and the bounty on her head. Oddly, the strange and dangerous Hamish Burns is the only one she can rely on. Virgin’s life gets… untidy.

My Review: Virgin Jackson is back in the second instalment of Marianne De Pierres’ Peacemaker series. This one’s just as action packed as the first, as gun-toting ranger, Virgin, aided by the taciturn US cowboy Nate Sixkiller, her spirit animal and her possibly psychotic self-appointed bodyguard, Hamish, set out to discover the truth about the Mythos. She’s got a mystery to solve and her name to clear, and a bounty and a murder rap both hang over her head. Beautifully written and tightly paced, De Pierres’ novel takes us from wild, open spaces to cramped city slums and back again. Urban Fantasy meets sci-fi, meets western, this is a book that will grip you from start to finish. Yee-haa!

Grab it here (Amazon) or support local Australian bookshops, and grab it here (Booktopia)

You can read a stellar review of its predecessor, Peacemaker here.


Soulless by Gail Carriger



Genre: Paranormal Historical Romance

Details: 373 pages, published 2009 by Orbit

Book blurb: Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette. 

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire — and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate. 

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

SOULLESS is the first book of the Parasol Protectorate series: a comedy of manners set in Victorian London, full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.

My Review:  A blend of Victorian, steampunk, regency comedy of costume, romance, horror, paranormal (werewolves and vampires) – Soulless is a librarian’s worst nightmare when it comes to deciding on a shelf to put it on. The storyline and concept, however, are both absolute crackers, and if you haven’t read this book (and I know I came to this party late) you really ought to!

Alexia Tarabotti is an outspoken, self-professed Victorian spinster who carries a cane just to beat up potential attackers. She’s attacked by a rogue vampire, who discovers (much to his dismay) that he’s messed with the wrong girl. Alexia has plenty of tricks up her sleeve (not the least of which is her Soulless ability which neutralises supernatural power)

Enamoured by the gruff, yet dangerously attractive Lord Maccon (who also happens to be a werewolf), Alexia must survive assassination and kidnapping attempts, her attraction to Lord Maccon (unsuccessfully), and her best friend’s terrible choice in hats. Written in a delicious Jane Austen style, there is enough absurdity in this book to make you laugh, and enough mystery to keep you turning the pages well into the night. Can you tell I’m Miss Carriger’s new number 1 fan?

Grab this book here.

Book Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum



Paperback, Collins Classics, 178 pages
Published 2010 by HarperCollins (first published 1900)


Greetings Brave Adventurers,

I’m a big fan of ‘reading the book’ before ‘seeing the movie’ (even though it often makes watching the movie an incredibly painful experience), but in the case of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, I grew up on the 1939 Judy Garland film adaptation, never having read the book.

When I decided to purchase the DVD version of The Wizard of Oz for my kids, it came with a copy of the original book, and I thought it was time to put my ignorance of the original material to bed, and read L. Frank Baum’s ‘modern day fairytale’.

It’s a short read, intended for children, and supposed to be written ‘with the unpleasant elements toned down to suit American sensibilities’ (but a bit more on this later).

So, what did I think of the book?

It’s impossible to review this book without reference to the movie (for me anyway). So often, movies get it wrong, but in the case of The Wizard of Oz, Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer got it oh-so right, expanding the story in just the right places, and cutting down on scenes where the book tends to wander. For instance, in the book, Dorothy finds herself flying through the air within a matter of paragraphs, all of that beautiful conflict with Miss Gulch a work of the screenwriters. Similarly, the book includes a journey through the land of ‘Dainty China Country’, encounters with the witches of both South and North, an adventure down a river, and a meeting with the mouse-queen, all of which added little to the forward momentum of the overall story. While the movie adds scenes of tension and fear (The Wicked Witch of the West turning up every few scenes to scare the little band of heroes along), the book had some very unmitigated violence. The tinman hacked the heads off a number of animals, which although stated matter-of-factly, made for a gruesome picture in your mind.

All in all, I enjoyed The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and would definitely read some of the sequels. For a book originally published in May 1900, this is a remarkably easy read. The story is enjoyable, and the characters are just as they are in the movie, flawed, but ultimately good and very likeable.

I’m giving this book 7/10 timeless dragons

7 dragons




5 things you might not know about The Wizard of Oz, if you’ve only seen the movie.

  1. The Wicked Witch’s shoes that Dorothy inherits are silver, not ruby.
  2. The tin man was once a real man – he was hacked apart, piece by piece by his enchanted ax, each part being replaced by a tinsmith. This is why he so desperately wants a heart – he was to be married the woman he loved, and when his heart was destroyed, he could no longer love her.
  3. The Winged Monkeys are controlled by a magic hat that can only be used three times. After the Wicked Witch of the West’s death, Dorothy gets control of the monkeys!
  4. Although the characters never say, ‘Lions and Tigers and Bears! Oh My!’ they do encounter the Kalidahs, monsterous beasts with bodies like bears and heads like tigers.
  5. To enter the Emerald City, you must wear green glasses at all times.
  6. Glinda is actually the witch of the South, and rules over the Quadlings.

Book Review: Time and Time Again by Ben Elton


Paperback, 528 pages

Published 2014 by Bantam Press


Greetings Brave Adventurers,

The Year is 2025. Ex-soldier and internet survivalist sensation, Hugh Stanton, a man without family or commitments, is called to a meeting at Trinity College by his former history professor, Sally McCluskey. McCluskey has more than a Christmas catch-up in mind though; she is one of the Companions of Chronos, an organization created at the request of and based upon the research of Sir Isaac Newton himself. For Isaac Newton discovered the secret of time travel.

Whisky-drinking, loud-talking and history-infatuated McCluskey wants to know; if you could go back in time, where would you go, and what would you change? For her, the answer is simple. Stop an assassination, and commit another, and prevent The Great War of 1914. And she wants Stanton to do it.

We follow Stanton through his training, and back into a vivid and beautifully depicted 1914. Elton’s historical research makes this a breathtaking and thoroughly enjoyable read, from Constantinople, to his descriptions of the events leading up to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, and most especially the way he brings 1914 Berlin to life.

This is a far more serious read than the other books of Elton’s I’ve read. It lacked the humor of Stark, or the satire of High Society. Hugh Stanton is a man who is deeply alone, his wife and children killed only months before he took up McCluskey’s assignment. The pace is fast and the plot keeps the pages turning.

And just you wait for the twist. You’ll be thinking about it for days afterwards. Because if you change the past, what becomes of the future?

10/10 Dragons (but will they be here tomorrow?)

10 dragons

Book Review: The Hunt for Pierre Jnr by David M Henley


Book 1 of the Hunt for Pierre Jnr trilogy

Paperback, 416 pages
Published  by Harper Collins Australia

Greetings Brave Adventurers,

This sci-fi political thriller by debut novelist David Henley is an intelligent and enthralling read.

The Hunt for Pierre Jnr is set in a world that felt to me as though it could be scarily prophetic. Global warming has caused worldwide famine, and the resulting social upheaval has left what remains of the world’s population scattered across a few habitable hubs. The world has become a smaller place than ever, and humanity is connected by the Weave, a matrix-style interface of all human thought and knowledge. Democracy has reached its ultimate level; politicians are elected and dethroned at the whim of the Will, the general consensus of the entire populace at any given time. This raised some very interesting propositions regarding political maneuvering, and spotlighted the ever-present political question of doing what is right versus doing what is popular. (I also wondered why the world wasn’t run by the lead singer of the latest boy band, but I was prepared to let that slide.)

Enter the psis; an outcast group of mutant humans, who can read minds (tappers), move objects (benders), and in some cases, control other people’s thoughts and feelings. Normal humans, terrified of the psis’ potential power, have repressed them and contained them to islands. Think X-men without the parochial American setting.

Henley has developed a baddie who could arguably be the most ultimately unstoppable force I’ve ever encountered on the page. I just kept thinking, “how can you stop this kid?” Pierre Jnr is a psi of incalculable strength. Eight years old and lacking a moral compass to the point of sociopathic, Pierre Jnr can (and does) control people to do his every whim, make people believe he is not there, turn people’s brain to baby food, and flatten whole cities with a thought. (I thought maybe the protagonist should pop over to X-men and ask Magneto if he could borrow his silly hat, but since Pierre Jr could crush the hat with your brain in it, it probably wouldn’t be worth the trip.)

Like many sci-fi adventures, some character development is sacrificed for the sake of plot and exploration of the premise. Henley plays out the threat of Pierre Jr on a world stage, with all of the political ramifications and machinations that ensue. To that end, this was a complex read, with several POVs, lots of political manoeuvring, and cool futuristic technology.

I particularly enjoyed Henley’s use of a tapper (mind reader) as protagonist. Having a main POV character that can read minds was a very clever authorial device, allowing Henley to write in omniscient (describing other character’s emotions and thoughts) whilst still remaining in close third POV. A very clever trick, and one I’m squirrelling away.

I had been warned that The Hunt for Pierre Junior ended on a cliffhanger. I’m not a fan of the cliffhanger ending, and was glad that it wasn’t a cliffhanger as such – rather it ended with the gauntlet being thrown down, and bigger things looming on the horizon. I’ll take that challenge, Mr Henley, and am looking forward to continuation of the story in Manifestations.

A powerful novel, delving into ideas of acceptance, fear and mass consensus.

9/10 symbiotic dragons

9 dragons


About the Author


David Henley does a few things. Primarily he writes stuff and has ideas. He runs Seizure (, works for Xoum ( and does special contract and publishing jobs for the creative industries.

The Hunt for Pierre Jnr is his first major release, but has some quirky and obscure works in his shady past


About the Novel: The Hunt for Pierre Jnr  (Book 1 of the Pierre Jnr Trilogy)

He can make you forget, he can control you and he is only eight years old. Three months after his birth he escaped. An hour later he was lost to surveillance. No one knows where he has been for the last eight years … Now Pierre Jnr is about to return.

THE HUNT FOR PIERRE JNR follows the activities of an elite group dedicated to tracking down the eight-year-old boy who is currently the greatest threat humanity has ever known. It′s a pacy and gripping chase, and an impressive vision of our future.

Read the first 80 pages in this sampler.

‘A fantastic look at the idea of human prejudice and fear… He [David M Henley] has the potential to be another Peter F Hamilton or Daniel Suarez…’ – Fantasy Book Review


Get it here: 

ebook available from the iBookstore, Bookworld, Google Play and Amazon

paperback available from Booktopia and Bookworld

Book Review: The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter


Book One of the Long Earth

336 pages

Published 2012 by HarperCollins

“Normally, when there was nothing to do, he listened to the silence”

Greetings Brave Adventurers,

This book was okay. Okay, in the sense of just okay. Okay, in the sense of, well, meh. It had its good points, but I often find with sci-fi, that if I have issues with the premise, then I just can’t enjoy the rest of the book, and I had issues with the premise, and the ponderous plot.

Imagine what would happen if you could step onto another world, another earth, devoid of people, untouched by pollution, with only a simple mechanism to help you. Now imagine what would happen if you could step to another earth, and another, and another. This is the premise of The Long Earth, that with nothing but a box and a potato you can step into an endless string of alternate realities. Or, if you know how, you can step with nothing at all.

My first big issue with the premise was the idea that populated cities would empty as people stepped away from civilization in their search for utopia. Pratchett and Baxter turned the Long Earth into a quasi-pioneering venture, where groups of people would dare the wilderness, and build something from nothing. Now, I’ve seen those shows where people have to live like pioneers and build their homes with olden days equipment and compost their own toilets and grow their own food. Frankly, it always looks to me like that kind of life pretty much sucks. Any hypothesis that most people would willingly give up the joys of modern life in exchange for the wilderness frankly underestimates the value of plumbing, tampons, microwaves, disposable nappies, takeaway food, a working health/government/law-and-order system, to name but a few of the simple luxuries modern life affords.

Anyhoo, that’s rant number one over. Now lets get to the story. Joshua Valiente, a natural stepper, is recruited by near-omniscient AI Lobsang, who claims to be the reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle repairman. Together they plan to travel to the ends of the Long Earth, a journey that will take them through millions of worlds. Lobsang is a quirky character at first, but grew tiresome for me, and as they float through the worlds in a giant airship, there was a distinct feeling that the story was going nowhere as multiple stories of random characters follow in an episodic blur. Even the impending doom which the novel tries to build seemed too vague and, by the end, unrealised.

All in all this novel is an okay way to spend a few hours, but the humour lacks Terry Pratchett’s usual deft touch, and the plot was not compelling enough to make me want to pick up the second book in the series.

6 different dragons, that all kinda look the same….

6 dragons