Alex Spellman blames himself for a covert operation that went wrong in Northern Spain. A sniper known only as Kapusta is a deadly assassin with a dark and complex past. The Russian Vasili Dragunov needs to clear his name at The Kremlin and will go any lengths to do so. Three men, all in need of redemption, brought together to face their demons. And each other. Alex Spellman is on the run with his American compatriot, Deanna Darby. They race from Europe to the US in the hope of finding answers, evading capture and bringing those who wronged him to justice. But why is Alex getting blackouts and who is to blame? Official secrets hang in the balance, as does the lives of the remaining members of Delta team. Can they turn the tables on their pursuers and regain the upper hand in this deadly game of cat and mouse?
WHY SHOULD WE READ IT?
In writing Echoes of Navarre I have attempted to emulate the books I most enjoy reading. I am a big fan of Ian Fleming and the Bond books and I am sure there are some parallels in the use of characters and locations in the narrative. I have maintained that Echoes’ is a spy thriller in the pulp fiction genre and, as it may not be for everyone, I am sure there is an audience, such as myself, who enjoys this type of escapism filled with action, excitement and peril.
TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF
Paul was born in the UK but moved to the west coast of Ireland 21 years ago. He is married with two adult children, one at college and one who designs, illustrates and releases role playing add-ons for gamers. After raising his two children while renovating the family home, he is now branching into new areas. In past lives he has been a photographer, a painter and a screenprinter too. This is his first book and he is planning for it to be part of a trilogy involving the same protagonists, Alex and Deanna.
Chapter nine of the Liam and Zita saga. London’s calling but so are surprises.
Amsterdam. Liam and Zita are on the boat deck, anchored in a Canal – he is chilling, she is tending her flowers. Soon it will be his birthday and she proposes to go to Madeira. Why not, he replies, after thinking about it.
Not long after, Zita receives a telegram, and, if the fact itself wasn’t already unusual enough, the content is even worse. They know, she keep repeating, alarmed. Who knows what, asks Liam. My boss, the Mossad. In the telegram, they referred to her as Sigrid, which is her real name. They know exactly where she is, despite all her efforts to hide. It’s definitely not a good moment.
So, Zita does the only thing she can: she pushes Liam into the water and tells him to swim to the opposite side of the river, where they sit on the bank, wet and scared. There, they wait for nighttime to come and then, using the darkness to their advantage, they go to DeGroot safe house, break the police seals and tamper with the new lock. But at least they are inside a house, where they can get changed and warm up a bit.
Unfortunately, the place only carries bad memories of violence and torture, but at the moment it’s more important they stay alive rather than thinking about their mental wellbeing. They won’t need to hold on for long anyway. They need to prepare a plan to escape, the sooner the better. in the meanwhile, though, Zita does all she can to secure the place. They do not know exactly how long they are going to stay, it might be anywhere between two or six, so Zita and Liam need to be careful and use all the precautions they can. At the beginning of their third day in the house, Zita finally breaks the news: they are leaving for London, and they are travelling light. Two backpacks are more than enough. It will be a long journey, it will be crazy and dangerous, but it will keep them alive, promises Zita.
On the way to the Eurostar they meet with Palina and Jan. Palina is a friend of Zita and with her she shared her painful permanence in DeGroot house, the same Liam and Zita took shelter in. The couple is very helpful, but at the same time this brings back memories and secrets that Zita would have preferred to keep in the dark. The permanence with Palina and her husband is short, and Liam and Zita soon embark on a Eurostar for England, their final destination Ashford.
Back in England they meet with Liam’s father, who is all but happy to see them, reinforcing the strong feeling Liam has of being displaced and not home anymore. It’s even more shocking to see that his mother, who has dementia, doesn’t recognise him. But, as Zita tells him, the world goes on, people change, places change, thank goodness.
While in the city, Liam goes to visit Kathleen, his ex wife. While she is surprised but civilised, Harry, their teenage son, is not particularly happy and tells him to get out of there and get lost. In the meanwhile even Felix, Kathleen’s current partner, pops by. He is unfazed by Liam’s presence, has a polite and superficial exchange of gallantries with Liam, and quickly leaves. The civilised conversation between Liam and Kathleen quickly fades, clearly there is too much history between them to last long on a light note, but Liam still manages to end his visit on a high.
Liam’s next stop is at his father’s house. He finds out that that day he has a seminar on ‘how it is to live with dementia’ and, on Liam’s insistence, they both attend. It’s wild. It’s eye opening for both of them, even if not in a nice way, because they realise how much their wife and mother is going through. They leave the seminar even more discouraged than before.
Zita meets with Jimmy, and while they are together, they hear on the news that a 33 years old man has suffered an acid attack not far from where they live. Immediately, their thoughts turn to Liam. As soon as they reach the hospital, the reality welcoming them is different: luckily it’is not Liam, but Felix, Kathleen’s partner. They are sure the attack was meant for Liam.
Liam knows who plotted the whole thing and goes to find Player, his cronies and Oleg. After some heated confrontation and a subsequent altercation, Liam is knocked unconscious, dragged out of there and to another location, where Player’s men pour vodka straight down his throat, which is a low blow for Liam, who’s hit the 575 days mark of sobriety. It doesn’t take long for Zita to find out who did it and take her revenge. Detective Fuller, now DCI, thinks he knows what happened and has his suspects, but nothing can be proved.
In between more police suspects, family problems and brushes with an early death, the ninth book of the series will reach its final pages.
It’s a fast-paced story that contains a good mix of humour and violent action, but without transcending into trashy descriptions. I liked how the narrative was in keeping with the genre, but I somehow missed a lack of deeper descriptions, both about the environment the two characters live in and their emotional state. Not always ‘less is more’ is the best choice. However, it’s a pleasant read and, for those who are following the series from Book 1, a definitely a welcome addition to the saga. If you are a newbie to Graham’s work, we recommend you start from the beginning to get a better sense of what’s happening.
Interesting fact: the title of each chapter is named after a song: fans could actually have some fun creating a dedicated Spotify playlist!
The author of ‘Born in Stockport – Grew up in the Royal Navy’ bares it all about his debut trilogy!
WHAT IS THE SERIES ABOUT?
The life and times of how a troubled teenager came of age and matured to contribute to his community. Told by the way of funny stories in a raw and gritty style, without ever losing sight of the rascal he was. Illustrated with photographs and cartoons.
WHY SHOULD WE READ IT?
A unique series of memoirs that reveals everything about growing up with a glint in your eye. No-one else can tell my story like I can. They will make you laugh a lot and possibly cry a little.
TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF
Maurice Perkins, also known as Moz, Polly and Mo (nicknames, depending on where he is known from) was born in 1957, a time when communities were still recovering from the impact of the Second World War. His parents are from simple backgrounds and ploughed a lot of love into him and his two brothers. Mum in particular encouraged all three of them to be creative. Maurice has drawn cartoons and can tell stories. It is why he has been able to become an author.
Find out more about Maurice on his social media (Twitter, Facebook) and buy his books through his Amazon page.
Book One of ‘The Ivy Moon Chronicles’ by W. C. Furney
“My name is Ivy Moon,” I say to Tonka. He stares at me with dark, intense eyes. Biding his time. Waiting for me to make a move. “It’s the name I’ve given myself. The kitchen calendar has all the dates in September marked off except for the thirtieth, so I think it’s today’s date. It’s a Celtic Tree Calendar, and it shows today is the first day of the Ivy Moon. I can’t remember my real name, so I’m going with that. Do you like it?”
This is how “Ivy Moon” begins. Who is this girl? Why doesn’t she know how old she is? And who is Tonka?
She wakes up on a boat, and she soon realises she knows a lot of nautical jargon, but she has no memory of having been on a boat before. The interesting part, though, is that the boat is against a house. It seems like there was a storm so powerful it pushed a boat around. But Ivy’s memories are scattered, she has no recollection of a storm, or any severe weather conditions. A good thing though is that she recognises the neighbourhood – she must be from there.
Once she gets herself out of the boat, she can focus on other matters: there are a lot of questions Ivy needs answers to, but there are also more urgent priorities, especially food and shelter. She enters the house her boat hit, and after feeding herself and Tonka, she goes to sleep in one of the bedrooms and postpones any further exploring until the following day, when daylight will definitely help. The exploration will be longer than she expected, but fruitful: she finds out that she is in New Bern, North Carolina, in a house on Shadow Lane. Not that it means much, but at least it gives her a sense of security.
But her security is short-lived: every single house she enters on her street is completely empty, and whoever lived there simply vanished. That’s why she names the event ’The Great Vanishing’. There is one detail, though, that registers in her mind, even if she doesn’t want to give to it much importance: in the first house she visits, she notices something weird on the floor, a pile of sand with a ring and a buckle. Someone must have dropped the urn with the ashes of a loved one, with a ring and a buckle inside. But there is no trace of the urn. While continuing with her exploration, she finds the same in other houses: sand, with rings, diamonds or other artefacts. Ivy starts to question it.
This is not the only thing that doesn’t make sense, though. Her brain seems to contain plenty of information about the most different things: she knows how to drive a sidecar, how to switch on and use a chainsaw, how to fire firearms, and a lot of pop, TV and geeky references that she can’t explain, because she has no memories of having done or seen any of these things.
Her explorations continue. It can’t be only her, she keeps saying to Tonka, because she is neither that smart, nor that lucky. As she wanders around she notices one, disturbing detail: shops and restaurants are unlocked, meaning that whatever happened, it happened during the day, when everyone was busy with their daily routines, and there are lots of sand piles around.
One thing that Ivy didn’t consider is the possibility for her to get injured or sick. So, when tiredness, stress and the lack of a balanced diet meets a heavy thunderstorm, she catches a cold and develops a consequent fever. She needs help. Despite her poor health conditions, she gets on a boat and sails across the creek behind her house, where there is a controlled fire, a sign there might be other humans nearby. She lands and glimpses at a man who is giving her his back. His lack of reactions speaks volumes, and so his welcoming.
“Hello, Turpi,” he says. “I’ve been waiting for you. Come, sit by the fire. I don’t have much time.”
Talking to him, she discovers the mysterious guy is her father, but he soon disappears in the forest behind them, not turning back to give her any more information or help. Unfortunately, when she wakes up, there are no traces of the man nor of his presence, and she convinces herself that it was only just a dream.
She gets back to the house and makes sure she recovers, resting and eating better. When she is finally ready to go out again, a few days have passed and she sails again, this time on a kayak. It comes as a real shock when she finds another girl, alive. Ivy Moon meet Roxie River, Roxie River this is Ivy Moon. Roxie too has no memories of who she is, what happened or her past, and she too thought she was the only person in the world. It’s a pleasant surprise for both of them to see they were so wrong. They start to explore the world together, and on a day like any other, they meet three more girls. From here on the story will be a crescendo of events and twists until its explosive and unforeseeable finale.
The book is amazingly paced: we are there with Ivy every step of the way, and considering that she doesn’t know who or where she is, she’s just like the reader – that’s how W.C. Furney creates a superb, strong bond between reader and main character. The idea is very good and well developed, and the presence of an all-girl cast of characters is always a refreshing news.
However, on the downside, we found too many repetitions: how many times can she be afraid to wet her pants? How many times can she actually be surprised of knowing things she has no memory of knowing? We probably would have done with more descriptions of the places Ivy was crossing, for a more complete experience of being in the story with her. The alternation between action and description is always good to keep the reader on their toes.
Still a significant effort! We will patiently wait for the next book in the series.
The incredible first book of the ‘Joshua Bane’ seriesbyJonathan A. Cerruto
We are in Trisna. The day is about to begin. A woman we don’t know anything about is giving birth. As soon as the boy is out of his mother’s womb, the guards of King Gabriel, the ruler of Trisna, bang on the door, asking to enter. Despite the exhaustion, the woman raises her hand, ready to evoke and make use of her powers. She is the Keeper of the Seals, a powerful but complicated figure of the court. her position forbids her from having babies, something she clearly disregarded, because she went on and had a baby with a Medicadum, a palace staffer in charge of wellbeing. On the other side of the door, though, along with the guards there is also Nonna (nana) Betty, who is King Gabriel and the Keeper’s mother. They take the baby and the keeper is brought to jail, where she starts writing on the walls until nighttime, when she is summoned by King Gabriel.
What his sister did is absolutely unqualifiable, but she is the King’s sister after all. So the boy is taken by Queen Eva and the King to be raised as their own, while the King’s sister is banned from Trisna for the rest of her life. Before leaving the reign, though, she puts a curse on the royal household.
She is transported to the Dark Land, where, as the name suggests, there is nothing – no sun, no vegetation, barely any water – and finds shelter in a cave. The night passes somehow, and the next day she receives a visit. The person is a copy of herself, and that leaves her puzzled. The person in front of her is a doppelgänger that her mind created years before. Her Spectrums (her magic powers) are gone, but the doppelgänger explains that magic can’t be ripped off, the person can only be tricked into thinking that they don’t have their Spectrums anymore but it’s not like that. Besides, the doppelgänger literally planted a plan b inside the Keeper, right under her skin. Trust me, says the doppelgänger, drink this and your powers will be restored. Not completely sure, she takes a weird concoction, dies but soon after she is born again, oozing a dark substance, the same that she oozed when she gave birth. This is your real Spectrums, says the doppelgänger with a big smile. She can finally work out her comeback strategy and take her revenge. It will take her 11 months to release the dark souls trapped in the Dark Land, but once she is done, she has an army at her disposal.
Revenge is a dish best served cold, though, and the Keeper can be patient. She plans the attack on the day Queen Eva is giving birth to her twins. It’s pure chaos: no one was expecting that, especially not on such a joyful occasion. After a bloody and cruel battle, using a magical spell, King Gabriel manages to send Nonna Betty, the twins and Celsius, his sister’s boy, away, saving them from her fury.
In a final attempt to stop her, the King sacrifices himself and the Five Stones on his sword, the ones he’s the keeper of, fly away.
The twins are named Joshua and Ashley. They end up at Childs Hill, an orphanage and the most miserable of places. Joshua’s situation is made even more miserable by the fact that, after a brief permanence, Ashley disappears, her fate unknown.
Time goes by and Joshua grows up, studies, gets a job, and makes a career. He’s a young, talented man who lives in London and has a nice apartment and some good friends. His past, as painful as it is, is behind him, and, most of all, he has no recollection of Trisna, or magic, or anything even remotely connected to it. One night, though, Keira, the magic mount of the King, takes Joshua to his island, Kroyden, and tells him that She is coming back and he has to fight Her. Who’s coming back? Is the first question Joshua asks. There is a book, Croydon continues, the Boom of Light, that the king scribbled with notes and letters. If Joshua wants to find answers and have a chance to defeat Her, he has to find it. He still has a million questions, but there is no time, because Joshua is abruptly woken up. He is in London and Nicky, a friend and co-worker, is looking at him, wondering if everything’s ok. Joshua says that yes, everything’s fine. He checks his phone and realises that the battery is almost drained. So, while looking for a charger, he finds a golden key that emanates a strong wave of energy. There is only one place where that key can open a door: Villa Bane. He has to go there and check himself. While driving out of London, he gets stuck on the M25, the creature stopping him a tall man with no facial features, two big white eyes, and a black substance that oozes out of his nostrils. Even if he doesn’t know, She sent him.
Joshua arrives at Villa Bane, where spiderwebs and dust dominate the landscape, and is desperate for his Nonna’s help. She sends it to him in the form of a book. When Joshua finds it, he starts reading it. In the last page, in an entry more recent than the rest of notes, there are the name of two places, one in Rome and one in Brazil. Joshua starts with Rome. There he will find out that Nonna had been in Rome too. But why? He doesn’t know, but he finds out a bit more about his mother: her name was Eva, she was a soldier of the Royal Army, a sword master, and she also was a healer, a person who, only by placing her hands on someone healed them immediately. But She was jealous and wanted to be in Eva’s shoes, so She tried all She could to keep Eva and Gabriel apart, clearly with no success.
Then, all of a sudden, Joshua finds himself in front of Villa Borghese. How did he get there and why or how he needs to carry on is kind of a mystery. He looks around, at loss for ideas, but there is a small hint, a clock, that marks the time very loudly and gets his full attention. The clock opens and Joshua, against his better judgment, gets into it. It’s his best decision: inside, it’s like a house, with rooms and corridors, and what he finds is astonishing. Joshua finally finds the Book of Light, and he manages to grab it before running back, finding himself no longer in the pendulum but in the lift of his London apartment.
This is the beginning of another set of twisted events that will continue, page after page, until the epic final : unbeknown to Joshua, Ashley is alive and wakes up, her exact location unknown.
This book is as dense as any good fantasy book can be. Imaginative, rich of descriptions and strongly penned characters, the story is eventful to say the least. Events follow each other with a good pace and a skilful balance. There are times when the narrative is slowed down by the wordy descriptions, and, in my opinion, the jumps in time, space and different worlds can be refined, giving each of them the attention and care they deserve. But altogether it’s a good job! It’s full of good, relatable characters and feelings, the main character is openly gay (always a plus despite all the Pride months and the gay right movements) and, last but not least, this book is full of magic, something we so desperately need in everyday life.
‘A single light’ is the continuation of ‘The line between’. We left Wynter, the main character, running away from Magnus and the cult he was the leader of, with the world on the brink of a lethal pandemic no one knows much of, except it’s deadly. Herself, Chase, her boyfriend, and Truly, her niece, found shelter in Noah’s underground silo, west of the city of Gurney. It’s now day 14 of the 180 days their permanence will actually last. The three of them, along with another group of 61 people, are literally locked in: on the double doors that lead in and out there is a computer timer that will not open until the countdown ends, not even if tampered with. In that case, it will probably not open at all.
Inside, Wynter became Winnie: this is the closest she can get to her real name without pronouncing it. They don’t know who might know something or not, and they can’t risk it.
In the bunker, the artificial lights are set to create the illusion of a passing day: there is the sunrise and the sunset, and a big, black screen that shows a starry night sky. It helps for a while, even if it displays always a bright, sunny June day, even when they are celebrating Christmas. At midnight precisely Noah appears on the screen. Since the door needed to be locked both from the inside and the outside at the same time, he was the one who got out. He now talks to his people from an office above surface. At 5.30 each day he records a message, that will be later broadcast to the people inside. But his latest video messages is cut short, and he appears to be leaving in a rush. The compound tries to find an explanation, decides to wait until the next day, and then grows impatient when, as midnight approaches, there is no sign of Noah.
Day 29, still no sign of Noah or the outside, while on the inside there is a raging war of speculations and different possible scenarios. The morale is low and the inhabitants, inevitably, start to panic and take it against each other. The tension is palpable, different people want different things, and the attempt of one of the guests to open the door while another guest tries to stop them, ends up with the death of one of them, Braden, reducing the number from 63 to 62. After a brief and summary process, it’s unanimously decided that Piper, the culprit deserved capital punishment. She is escorted inside the walk-in freezer and tied against a pole. But Jay, her husband, incapable of accepting the fate she chose for herself, gets into the freezer too. Only 60 people are now left in the silo.
Eventually, they find out about Wynter too. There is an article on someone’s phone, the last one before they locked themselves in, titled ‘MURDER SUSPECT DISAPPEARS WITH PROMISING RESEARCH’ but since there is no broadband, the image can’t be uploaded. They ask Truly, who confirms that yes, Winnie’s name is Wynter. It takes them a second to put two and two together and Wynter is sedated and locked in the pen that was built after the first of them died, to be used as a makeshift jail cell. Wynter is forced to tell her story – her life in the compound, how she escaped it thanks to the manipulations of her sister, who did it to save Truly, how she delivered the samples of the infected pigs’ brains to a vet, how she is escaping from justice but telling the truth. No one wants to believe she is innocent and that she means no harm. Chase gives his mates his phone and tells them to look at the pictures and some files he stored on them, proving Wynter is innocent. The reason why he knows is that he is a bounty hunter and his encounter with Wynter wasn’t casual at all.
The compound finally believes her, bus the fracture between Chase and Wynter is inevitable. It’s only fair that she starts to question all the things he said, including his profession of love. They settle for a polite co-existence, where they don’t speak to each other unless it’s strictly necessary.
The Open Day is closer, and they all start to make plans about how they will resume their lives outside, thinking what is expecting them out there and how to act when the doors open: will there be vaccines? Will it be a nuclear winter instead? A few days before the doors are supposed to open, an alarm starts ringing, and they all get worried. What’s happening? If the doors open before time who will cross them, friends or foes? They gather their weapons and wait. But when nothing happens, they decide to bolt into action and go out, forcing the doors open. It’s 3 in the morning in the outside world and four of them, including Wynter and Chase gear up to see what’s going on.
The first thing they notice is the absence of traces of Noah, or any of his neighbours. Chase and Winter set off to reach the nearest town, but along the way they only find desolation, not a single soul and spray-painted counts of victims in that particular house or church or if the place hosts infected people. It’s scary and disheartening, but they keep going. They eventually encounter Otto, a boy who, according to a message left by his dead father, is different but not bad. The only different thing about him, as they will soon discover, is the fact that he’s a mute, but he can actually interact with them, either by pointing at things or scribbling short messages on the notepad he carries around. They offer him to join them and he accepts. At a certain point Otto shows them a drawing he made of Noah. Otto is a local boy, and he knows about Noah and the silo. He’s also funny, smart and very sweet, and both Chase and Wynter take a liking to him, they kind of become a little family, until they cross a small gang dressed like vigilantes that shot him. As sad as it is, there is nothing left to do to save him and Chase and Wynter have to continue their journey.
It won’t be the last encounter they have with peril for the rest of the book, but eventually each problem will find its solution.
As in ‘The line between’, this book is packed with back to back action, plot twists, characters that we love and lose and amazing scenes that too often hit too close home. As Lee herself points out in the final acknowledgments, during the final edits of the book, her Nebraska home was hit by a bomb cyclone, delivering blizzards to the west and water to the east. As scary as the experience was, it did give her some writing material. As usual, her prose is neat and her dialogues witty, the pace is fast but never rushed and the characters are lovely, even though this instalment is perhaps a little less gripping that the other, probably because of the plot itself: the fact that Wynter and Chase spend more than half a book travelling, hiding and escaping chips away at complex descriptions and feelings. However, this book is yet another incredible page-turner, gripping from the first to the last page.