Book Reviews

Carol Anne Davis - Sob Story

Lonely and vulnerable, Amy is at university in a new town.  Manipulative, intelligent and calculating, Jeff is in a prison cell for strangling his ex-girlfriend.  Blind to the harm he can cause, Jeff’s adoring mother encourages Amy to write to and befriend the convict, neglecting to inform her that he is soon to be released into the community.  Amy’s brand new pan-pal has a penchant for necks and is eager for new prey, especially in the form of such friendless innocence.

Carol Anne Davis’ novel, Sob Story, is chilling and thought-provoking.  It’s a study into the darker side of human nature and Larkin’s words, “They fuck you up, your mum and dad,” ring truer than ever throughout.  This is an examination not only of the criminal mind but of parental neglect and domestic abuse.  The two protagonists are damaged in ways that could have been prevented by more vigilant and selfless parenting, something that we could all be mindful of when meeting people in real life who we consider to be odd.

The author clearly has an excellent understanding of criminology and her research seems thorough.  For that reason, this piece of fiction is sometimes uncomfortable but, like all good thrillers, the reader may find herself loathe to put the book down and so carries on regardless, with one eye closed, determined to find out how the story ends.

Actually, I think we more or less know what the conclusion will be but we’re kept guessing as to how this will happen.  As twists and turns come into play, we are introduced to new characters, who threaten to get in the way of sadistic Jeff’s deathly plans.  It’s all unnervingly nail-biting.

We look incredibly forward to hearing what Carol will deliver in the candlelight of the Old Town Quarry Café on 18th February.

Carol's website.

Written by Rebecca Condron

E.J. Newman - 20 Years Later

The disaster novel is a well-established form in British speculative fiction, and many authors have tried to imagine the consequences of the upheavals resulting from alien invasions, wars, climatic change, and numerous other likely or unlikely events. In recent years it has fallen out of fashion somewhat, but, with 20 Years Later, E J Newman has presented us with her contribution to its revival.

While many such stories deal with the onset and immediate aftermath of the disaster, in this case, as the title suggests, the action takes place some time afterwards, when the worst is over and a new status quo seems to have been reached.

In 2012 It happened, leaving few survivors and a world littered with the bones of the dead. By 2032 some degree of stability has returned, and London is ruled by gangs such as the Bloomsbury Boys, the Gardners, and the Red Lady's Hunters. When a giant enters the territory of these gangs, and is seen by one of the children who are the central characters of the novel, a chain of events that will have far-reaching consequences is set in motion.

As readers of Emma Newman's short story collection From Dark Places will already know, she writes gripping stories, and this one is no exception. The London of 2032 is a frightening and mysterious place, and she has only revealed some of its secrets here; there are many questions that will remain unanswered until we can read the second and third books in this series, something that I'm looking forward to with a considerable degree of anticipation.

20 Years Later is Emma Newman's first novel, and it's an impressive debut which I can recommend without hesitation. It's available as a hardback or an ebook and you can find out how to buy a copy by visiting her website, Em’s Place.

You can hear Emma reading from her work at The Liminal on 18 February. You might also like to ask her about London in 2032, but don't expect too many answers just yet

Written by Keith Ramsey

Gareth L Powell - The Recollection

A few years from now, in London, Verne Rico stumbles through a mysterious archway which has just materialised in a tube station and disappears. As more arches appear around the world, it is soon discovered that they are gateways to other worlds, some nearby, some far away, but all beyond the reach of human technology. Prompted by the realisation that Verne may still be alive, his brother Ed sets out to look for him.

Some four hundred years from now, on Tiers Cross, a bleak frontier world, Katherine Abdulov, owner and captain of the freighter Ameline, is desperate to make enough money to refuel her ship. When she accepts a charter to carry two passengers to Strauli Quay it brings not only the hope of reconciliation with her family, but also conflict with her former lover and bitter rival, Victor Luciano.

Gareth Powell takes these two events as the starting points for an epic adventure spanning light years and centuries. Throw in an alien race who seem to know exactly what is going on, but are reluctant to say and you have a story which, once begun, is difficult to put down.

The Recollection is a book for new readers and for science fiction fans; not only is it an ideal introduction to the genre for the former, but it also has plenty of in-jokes for the latter.

Paul Cornell has declared that "Gareth Powell is going to be a major voice in SF" and I wouldn't disagree with that; it's going to be interesting to see where he takes us next.

If you want to know more about Gareth Powell, or to buy a copy of The Recollection, take a look at

Written by Keith Ramsey

Kevlin Henney

If you have any connection with the world of computer software, you may know Kevlin Henney as the author of books and articles dealing with that, to me, esoteric field.

What you may not know is that he has also written a number of rather good short stories, most of which could probably be classed as science fiction. I can't say too much about any of these stories without giving away their secrets, so I'll confine myself to telling you that Google will lead you to a number of them, and the time spent searching for them is well worth the effort.

I would particularly recommend "Apollo 12" and "Starfall", but my particular favourite, "Remembrance of Things Past" doesn't seem to be available online, so I hope that Kevlin can be persuaded to read it for us when he appears at The Liminal.

Written by Keith Ramsey

Read Kevlin Henney:
Schrödinger's Pizza

June Bastable - Some People

June Bastable admits that she came to writing fiction later in life than many, enrolling on a Creative Writing course at Weston College at the age of 65.   But, boy, did she store up a catalogue of our faults, clocking the less savoury, nastier side of human nature, spitting it all back out at us in her first anthology of short stories, Some People.

June’s work contains more than just a hue of cynicism and some of her characters are downright unpleasant, though they seem to have no idea that they might be so.  The self-delusion and sometimes narrow-mindedness possessed by her protagonists gives a comical, even surreal twist to many of the stories in Some People.

A few of the stories are set in the imaginary village of Quagmire, a place you will want to read about but a kooky corner of the world where you wouldn’t necessarily wish to live.  The names of its inhabitants are quintessentially English-of-Olde (or else, so gloriously “out there” that they should be): Veronique Frobisher, Enid Clutterbuck, Dorothea Loomis, Percy Grimpenthorpe, Pandora Bellchamber.  Some of the cast are killers, others are killed, and some you may well want to kill yourself.   Not much love is lost between neighbours, making you wonder if they have worked out each other’s dark secrets already.

This anthology also gives us tales that evoke sadness, such as “Baby’s Breath” and “Death Day,” while “Ghost Writer” is more haunting.  Some stories will make you chuckle; I’m thinking here of “Pretty Bird.” There are also poems and playlets in June’s anthology and all entries are short, just right for a quick fix of fiction, making them perfect for a Liminal book reading!

Buy a copy of Some People on Amazon

See June in interview at Weston-super-Television

-written by Rebecca Condron

Emma Shortt - The Kiss

Reading Emma Shortt’s debut novel excited me: it gives us a witch, shifting time lines and some characteristically steamy sex scenes.

The Kiss is a Fairy Story about an early Nineteenth Century Earl and a down-on-her luck present-day heroine.  A spell, in the form of a curse, has been cast:  Adam Winterwood is the trapped victim and Eva Diakou may be the one who can unlock him.

Liminality is the space in between, a transitional stage, when one is neither here nor there.  Those hard-to-define stages between childhood and adulthood or between death and burial can be seen to be liminal. Mutual orgasm in sex, when two become one temporarily, I would define as physical or even spiritual liminality. All of these elements are striking in The Kiss and Adam Winterwood is the very essence of liminality, he exists yet he doesn’t:  to cross the threshold, he has some deep learning to do but, until then, he belongs to a liminal world.

This is a light read that is also fun and compelling.  The story taps into the child, the romantic and the sexual being in all of us.  A fairy story for adults that can only delight.

To read more about Emma and her work, visit her website.

-written by Rebecca Condron

Gareth L Powell - The Last Reef

I probably ought to begin with a confession: until I heard Gareth L Powell’s name mentioned on twitter a couple of months ago I was completely unaware of his existence. If this illustrates anything, other than my own lack of attention to what’s going on around me, it’s that there are some very talented writers in our part of the world who deserve a much wider audience.
The Last Reef is his first collection of short stories, and when I tell you that several of them were originally published in the UK’s leading science fiction magazine, Interzone, you’ll realise the quality of the work to be found here.
As with any volume of short stories, it’s difficult to say much about any of them without giving the game away, so perhaps it’s best for me to give you a flavour of what you will find here by saying that they are, by and large, dark and dystopian.
Gareth Powell’s futures are not those bright shining, glamorous ones that we were once promised would be forged in the white heat of the technological revolution. His characters live desperate lives, weighed down by the inevitability of entropy and uncertain how to react to the situations in which they find themselves. Whether on some frontier world, or here on Earth, new technologies affect them in unexpected ways, while the virtual and the real become inextricably entangled as they are confronted by the monolithic power of big business or the demands of enigmatic aliens.
If you’re still not convinced that these stories are for you, then perhaps you should listen to one of them, 'Ack-Ack Macaque', which you can hear the author reading here.
If you want to hear more, you’ll have to join us on July 30th.

- Written by Keith Ramsey

EJ Newman - From Dark Places

As soon as I finished reading E.J. Newman’s anthology of short stories From Dark Places, I found myself switching on the pc, linking to her blog and searching for another fix.

She gets you like that.

From Dark Places is a brilliant collection of the bizarre, the macabre, the inane and the downright scary.  After having read the eight-page "The Art of Desire," when I should have been asleep, I couldn’t settle because this chilling story of a little girl with a talent for painting was unnerving to a mother of a 4 year old daughter who loves nothing more than to hold a paintbrush in her hand and let her imagination flow.  So I carried on to the extremely short "No Surprise", which is so wonderfully twisted that it made me laugh out loud, albeit nervously.

Emma has a way of sucking you in, making you want more.  She knows people, you can tell.  I haven’t a clue whether she has studied psychology (it’s a question I’ll be sure to ask her at The Liminal), but she certainly seems to understand the deeper workings of the human mind.  Not that I’ve ever turned boys into frogs or made dessert for the Devil or nailed drawers together, like some of the characters in her work, you understand.  But she does know something and she makes the reader understand that, fundamentally, so do we.

Order a copy of From Dark Places here.

- Written by Rebecca Condron