Joshua Bane and the Five Watchtowers: The Book of Light

The incredible first book of the ‘Joshua Bane’ series by Jonathan 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.

Intrigued? Get your copy here:


The king of Gravesend is dead! Long live the king!

Book Three of ‘The King of Gravesend’ Series

We start with a funeral. Charles – Chuds – Douglas is dead. He had a long and fulfilling life, he experienced a lot, met some amazing people along the way and made a fair share of enemies too. He fought a lot of battles, including a fatwa against his person for allegedly killing the brother of one of his enemies, but he lost the one agains cancer [the term fatwarefers to an edict or ruling by a recognised religious authority on a point of Islamic law. The process of issuing a fatwa usually begins when a Muslim, confronted with a problem of life, belief or law, is unsure what to do, ed.]. He had recently been diagnosed, and contrary to his doctor’s opinion, he decided to refuse any form of treatment. This left him with 3 to 6 months to live and he decided to live them the way he wanted, enjoying every single minute surrounded by the people he loved and whom loved him back.

So, here we are. Time has ran out for Chuds, and his friends and family are surrounding his burial site. Everyone’s there: Ro, his partner, Brian, Anil, his lawyer, Wrong Way Ronnie, Deepa, Poncy Pete and Big Man. They do their best to gather around Ro and cheer her up, or at least make her feel less lost.

In the following pages, we step back a few months and from Gravesend we go back to the Philippines, where Chuds and Ro are operating a restaurant/night club, with plans to expand the business. It’s their baby, they are are happy there, they are creating their own support system, making friends and having the time of their life. So, when Agent Smith and Agent Darby knock on their door it’s a shock to the system. During one of his trips, Chuds managed to wipe out a terrorist cell that was raising money to fund the indoctrination and subsequent radicalisation of young people all over the world, including the UK. The brother of the cell chief is the one who issued the fatwa and Chuds was enlisted as a Home Office agent, meaning he is under their protection. When he doesn’t check in with them, as he is supposed to do, Agent Smith and Agent Darby decide to travel to the Philippines to make sure he is still alive and kicking. He is and they are somehow reassured. Chuds’s life can go on.

He is on a trip when his journey is diverted to Kuala Lumpur. It’s not part of the original plan, but he uses the unexpected diversion to say hello to an old friend, Lena. During his sojourn, though, a weird accident happens: Chuds loses his phone, someone finds it and sends it to his hotel with a courier, but the guy is found dead in a ‘tragic accident’ that doesn’t sound like an accident at all. Chuds decides to not see anything more into this: it’s been reported as an accident and for Chuds it was, weird and tragic, but nothing more than an accident. He also decides it’s high time to sever his contacts with Agent Smith and Agent Darby, and finally flies back home to the Philippines.

This is when he has his doctor’s appointment. He wasn’t already feeling too well and decided to book a check-up. Unfortunately, it’s too late. Prostate cancer, malignant tumour. Even with radical treatment, the situation doesn’t look too bright. On top of that, his project to expand the restaurant is not looking great either: the idea of having a theatre, that could eventually double up as cinema, is not making any profit. Chuds finds himself in a position where he needs to call his friend Two Dinners Terry, a former event manager, to get help.

“I stand before you ladies and gents, the fine figure of several men!  And I hear you saying to each other, ‘Why do they call him Two Dinners Terry?’  Well I’ll tell you why, because my name’s Terry, pretty simple really if you think about it. BUT, I am here tonight to give you men a warning though, consider this a PSA – NEVER cheat on your wife.  While you may think it’s exciting to get some strange on a regular basis, there are hidden dangers. The worst of which is that you have to eat two dinners, one with the bit of fluff and one with the missus when you get home. I used to be able to hide behind this mic stand I was so skinny, take a fucking look at me now!”

This quote gives you a very good indication of what to expect from this book: ‘smarty-pants’, quick-witted characters, an incredible voice and a spectacular narrative packed with action, but also tenderness. The plot is very well developed, there are no loose threads or questions that remain unanswered. Everything will become clear in the end. The pace is fast, but not rushed, the characters are a paper representation of your friends and family, they look like them, they live like them, they even talk like them!

And the end will leave you with your mouth hanging open.

This book is a delight from the first to the last line, one of those books that I wouldn’t mind to read again in the future! But for now we will focus on Peter’s next book which is no more than a bunch of jotted lines so far, but we are sure it will grow big and strong just like the others!

All books by Peter Draper are available at:


Nature’s bite

Book Three of the ‘Phineas Mann Series’ by Mark Anthony Powers

Nature’s Bite. Hawksbill Press, 2022.

It is our pleasure to introduce you to one of our favourite self-published authors and his latest literary endeavour. Mark drew from his own 40-years’ career in medicine to create his successful, beautifully written medical thriller The Phineas Mann series (three books in the series so far).

It’s 2024, a good few years after the terrible hurricane that hit New Orleans and the life of a young Phineas Mann. He’s now a mature man, with his wife Iris still by his side, their two kids now grown up and with families of their own. It would only be right for him to retire and spend the rest of his life the way he wants, but it’s not time yet. We soon find out that he’s working on a research project: phase three trial of a new, promising asthma drug is about to start very soon.

But life is unpredictable and full of irony, and when the FBI knocks at your door, that’s a call you need to answer. Special Agents Meyers and Richter (a caricature of the more famous MIB agents) ring Phineas and Iris’s bell and, despite the initial confusion of the couple, they let them in. After a creepy and quite nonsensical string of questions – about their jobs, their children, their citizenship, where their incomes come from – the two Special Agents leave the Manns house, not before asking Phineas if he’s ready to serve his country.

In the meanwhile, Marie Porter, the daughter of Angela Porter (a nurse who poisoned several patients in Book Two and almost got Phineas convicted for the murders), is back in Durham after 26 years. Her early years weren’t carefree and full of joy, all the contrary: Marie and her mother moved frequently from town to town, school to school, group of friends to group of friends, while her mother took private nursing positions. Sometimes they had enough to rent a small flat, other times they lived in with the patient, crammed in one room, but all her mother’s patients were frail enough to die not long after she took the job, and the whole moving shenanigans started again. Her best time was in Chinook, Montana, where they lived for three years. At that point, when Angela moved to a new city, Marie moved to college. She graduated at the medical school of the University of Washington and after her beginning as an internist and the challenging years of Covid, she landed a 9 to 5 job in the pharmaceutical industry. She is actually supervising phase three of a trial of a new, promising asthma drug (what are the chances?!).

The reason why the FBI came to visit Phineas and his wife to ask for his cooperation will become clear later in the story, when the US President will develop a severe case of “alpha gal syndrome”, a medical condition meaning that the patient is allergic to mammalian meat: if ingested, the patient will develop a bad urticaria. The reason of the disease is to be found in a particular species of tick that is moving North on the planet due to global warming, provoking life-threatening allergic reactions.

Even if the America of the book is set in the future and the President (or POTUS as he is known) is an imaginary, unnamed figure, he is still very recognisable and gives a very hard time to all those not aligned with his extreme Right agenda, making Phineas life (he’s a Democratic through and through) very difficult.

There are many references to voters’ rights, the environment and the infamous public/private healthcare system. Once again, Powers makes use of his outstanding medical skills, explained to the non-medical reader with simple and clear words. A situation that seems worrying but controllable turns into a life-or-death deadlock, keeping readers on their toes until the last pages, when Phineas is faced with a very difficult decision.

In our opinion, the book offers food for thought around today’s political and environmental problems and anxieties. We did appreciate the “twist” brought about by Marie, Angela’s daughter, even if, at times, we found that the themes portrayed were probably described in too much detail, with the narration almost shifting to non-fiction. 

All in all, however, the book was a great, enjoyable read – as it is always the case with Mark’s books. We love in fact the crafty way Powers has to imbue his characters of notions and teaching moments, still keeping them what they are, i.e. book characters. The appropriate conclusion to such an emotional and action-driven rollercoaster trilogy.

Having interviewed Mark in the past (read more here), we cannot wait to find out what he’s going to write about next: is the protagonist going to be a doctor?! Or perhaps a new subject entirely… ‘write about what you know’ is a formula that does not work for everybody after all. Well, it is highly likely his next book will keep us glued to the page regardless, just like this one.

To find out more about Mark Anthony Powers and his work, visit his website:


My Name is Marcia

A YA novel by Clint Chico

It’s a tepid night at the end of summer when Marci Torres, who prefers to be referred to as Marcia, and bestie Charlie are on the fifty-yard line of their high school football field and Marcia comes out as gay. She expects hell to break loose, but Charlie, as the best friend she really is, dismisses Marcia’s words by simply saying she already knew.

Marcia feels lighter, since she can finally share her love crushes with Charlie. There is this girl, Shannon Palmer, who plays in the same softball team as Marcia, and also runs the Bible Study Club. Even if Marcia is not a fervent Catholic, she decides to join the club to get to know Shannon better. However, during one of the group meetings Marcia has an altercation with another girl, Ashley. Contrary to Marcia and Shannon, Ashley is very strict on the interpretation of the Bible: it says nowhere that it’s ok to be gay, and it doesn’t matter if present times are different from the times the Bible was written. This confrontation is so cruel that Marcia is brought to tears and runs away, hiding in the toilet. Shannon follows her and calms her down changing topic: they have a softball match coming up in the next few days and Shannon promises that, if they win, the two of them will go out for an ice cream.

They do win the match and Shannon, faithful to her word, meets Marcia for an ice cream, specifying it’s not a date. If Marcia invited her to the freshmen ball, then that would be a date. Marcia dutifully records the message. They chat almost about everything and eventually Shannon opens up about how hard it is for her to live at home with her father, who is deeply religious and a high achiever, and has great ambitions for his daughter. He is constantly beating her up verbally, saying that she can’t do anything, that her efforts are not enough, and this constantly leaves Shannon in a dark place. Marcia feels for her. It’s clear that, in such environment, being gay is just not an option. The whole conversation becomes a ‘please be patient with me, give me some time, don’t be pushy but don’t ignore me’. 

Talking to Charlie, Marcia finds out there is no freshmen ball: only junior and senior students will be allowed. Marcia marches to Mrs Williams, the students’ counsellor, explains her situation and she is told that, to promote one, the motion must come from the student council. The elections for representatives are running at the end of the month and Marcia puts herself forward as a candidate. The only problem is she will be running against Ashley. It’s clear from the first day that Ashley is not ready to lose, and she is willing to go the extra mile to make it happen: on Monday morning Marcia finds herself slandered all over social media. It’s a hard blow but it will make Marcia cross paths with Patience Lancaster, who defines herself a ‘sort of a fan’. Patience tell Marcia that her and all her friends hate Ashley too. It gives her the strength to continue her battle to become the next students’ representative.

Speech day comes and both candidates take the podium, but while Ashley’s speech sounds very ‘political’, Marcia’s speech is honest, powerful and most of all, proud. After the longest second of her life, Marcia is mesmerised by a long and loud standing ovation. It’s clear who will win. 

But the happy ending is nowhere near.

This is, at a first glance, an unassuming book: the target audience are teenagers, and even though there may be a few repetitions (for example, Shannon is told at least twice that Marcia and Charlie are besties, and the fact that Ashley and Shannon behave politely around each other because their parents are part of the same church is reiterated a number of times), it’s far from being an easy to digest book.

The number of themes discussed is simply astonishing: self-discovery, self-acceptance, coming out, parents-sons relationship, the role of religion in personal lives and choices, domestic sexual abuse, self-harm, attempted suicide, jealousy and conflict. In a light plot the author is able to condense in few, specific words the troubles, the fears, the delightful pains and the awkward happiness of being a teenager. Not only you are discovering yourself, but you are also discovering that you are different from what is expected of you and from the role models you have around, and you need to accept it and deal with it because there is nothing else you can do, even if the only thing you want is to belong, to anything, anywhere, and stop feeling lost and alone. All this narrated with no drama, no judgment, and a lot of hope.

It’s rare to find books so powerful, so well written, with such a beautiful message and self-published. It’s a welcome surprise we want to read more of and will never grow tired of. 

‘My name is Marcia’ is book one of a four book series. All other novels by Clint Chico are available at:


Love is the best Revenge 

The second full length novel by contemporary fiction author AH Bracken 

Love is the best Revenge. AH Bracken, 2022.

Set in the fictional town of Somerzoy, ‘Love is the Best Revenge’ tells the (love – hate – and everything in between) story of best-selling romance novelist Lady Marianne Clemenceaux and journalist Tom Underwood. What’s the catch? Lady Marianne, daughter of an Earl, is loved and respected by the local community and a well-established name in publishing. Life’s good until Tom Underwood takes a job at the local gazette and writes an unforgiving article about her, questioning her authenticity and ability to create relatable stories – given her privilege, does she really know how ordinary people live? It’s not really that simple though, as Lady Marianne has a secret: what is she hiding behind her pink aura of perfection and literary glory? Tom Underwood has a secret too: he’s in Somerzoy to rebuild his career and reputation following a journalistic reporting flop in his previous job. Tom’s article bewilders Somerzoy citizens, and they join forces to help Lady Marianne. One of them in particular, Maria – the enigmatic raven-haired town mechanic – seems really keen to seek revenge on Lady Marianne’s behalf. Instantly fascinated by her, Tom Underwood falls in love with her, failing to see her hidden agenda. Unfortunately, revenge is hardly straightforward, and all plans will come crushing down, as Tom and Lady Marianne’s paths finally cross. 

While as a reader I am not naturally drawn to contemporary romance novels, I am making it my mission today to explain the 5 reasons why ‘Love is the Best Revenge’ is THE quintessential romantic novel and one to read NOW. 

1 | A sympathetic heroine. Maria is a complex character with lots of different nuances to her personality. She is a strong-willed young woman who’s also vulnerable (but not weak), extremely intelligent and capable. Maria’s humanity makes her very relatable, especially when it comes to her constant struggle with her wealthy parents, who refuse to understand why she wants to distance herself from her family heritage and privilege by challenging stereotypes through her tattoos, raven-black hair and by working as a mechanic.

    2 | A strong, irresistible (anti) hero. Tom Underwood is perhaps the polar opposite of the irresistible, fascinating male main character you would expect in a romantic novel. However, Tom is also a well-rounded character with very interesting layers to his personality: career-focused and trying hard to restore his reputation as a journalist after believing the wrong person; confident enough to put himself out there and chase what seems to be an impossible romance but sensitive and brave enough to question his own decisions and challenge himself to be a better man. Thanks to these two very strong main characters, Bracken makes you buy into the story immediately.

    3 | Emotional tension. At the heart of every romance, emotional conflict keeps the heroine and the hero from being together throughout the story even though they want to be. Again, Bracken did a great job here, creating a tension that’s complex, never dull, believable, and grows from the interaction between the two characters. I must confess that while reading I almost found myself shouting at them to finally stop resisting their feelings and recognise they are made for each other.

    4 | A believable plot. The context in which the emotional journey of our characters develops is perfectly believable. In terms of the social aspect, Maria comes from a noble family so that’s probably hard to relate to as it’s further away from our daily lives, but her rebellious, freedom-seeking spirit is by all mean something we can all understand. Tom comes from a middle class, caring family and has therefore a very specific outlook on life, considering privilege by lineage old-fashioned and anachronistic; if you think about how different they are to begin with, what an amazing journey for Maria and Tom (credit to AH Bracken for her narrative skills)! The backdrop to their journey, the small town of Somerzoy, is no different from any small town anywhere in the country, where everybody knows each other and has its own allegiances and conflicts but a perfectly pleasant place to live. I loved all the secondary characters, especially Maria’s best friend Kitty, always ready to stand by her friend and Maria’s relationship with her sister Annabel, who is acutely aware of how much Maria is suffering because she is “so lost and unable to be the person she badly wanted to be”. While some elements of the plot may be a bit far-fetched, this story is aspirational, fundamentally optimistic and provides some much needed escapism. 

    5 | A happy-ever-after ending. Of course. Maria and Tom do commit to coming together as a couple in the end, as you would expect from this particular genre: happiness is part of the promise of a romance after all!

    If to all of the above you add seamless writing, Bracken’s great ability to create an organic flow of actions, revelations and unexpected twists… you are in for a real treat. 

    About AH Bracken 

    Happily married and living in Buckinghamshire, UK, AH Bracken is an avid reader of contemporary and historical fiction. Her favourite authors include Marian Keyes, Trisha Ashley, Katie Fforde, Lindsey Kelk, CJ Sansom and Philipa Gregory.

    The desire to write finally became a reality in early 2021 when she began work on her first novel, and this enthusiasm also led to the release of ‘In December and Always’, ‘Someone to Cherish You’, and a new novel, ‘Love is the Best Revenge’.

    You can expect smart, strong female characters with a story to tell, narratives that highlight difference, adversity and survival; and charming, gentle love stories based on romance and connection (source:

    All books by AH Bracken are available for purchase at:


    Take Two

    Book Three of Stephanie Shea’s ‘A Gia, San Francisco Romance’ Series

    Andy and Whitney [i.e. Avery’s half-sister from Book Two, see our review here] meet again after six years apart, when Andy left San Francisco for London to study and become a director. They meet again in town by pure chance, and the awkwardness of the moment doesn’t escape either of them. They used to besties in high school until they started dating. It was amazing, it was great, they had ups and downs, like any other couple, but all in all they were doing well. Until they weren’t. And now, six years later, Andy is back. 

    Andy is actually after Jenn Coleman, chef patron of Gia’s Restaurant, keen to interview her for a docu-series she is working on about black women of power. Not only is Jenn black and self-made, but also queer and famous, making her appearance in the series even more meaningful. However, Jenn is not interested in appearing in front of a camera. She barely likes spending time front of house in at her own restaurant, and is much more comfortable creating in her kitchen. Whitney happens to be an employee at Gia’s Restaurant; it would be convenient to ask her for a favour so she can meet Jenn, but Andy finds the idea reproachful. It just wouldn’t be right. Especially because she is not expecting Whitney to still be mourning her departure, even less owe her anything.

    As a matter of fact, Whitney has indeed moved on, and is currently dating Isabelle, a doctor. She is trying, at least. Because despite all her efforts, she knows deep down they are not meant to be. There are too many things that don’t work between them, and it’s just a matter of time before they go their separate ways.

    While in town, Andy goes home to see her parents and meets Kasey, a very good friend of hers, for a drink. Once again, she runs into Whitney, who’s in the same bar with Isabelle. Andy can see them, but she can’t hear their conversation. What is really happening is that Whitney is finally breaking up with Isabelle. The following day, Andy goes back to Gia’s and meets Whitney again. She didn’t expect to find her ex-girlfriend working there, but she quickly recovers from the surprise and explains to her what she is trying to achieve. Unfortunately, they also start talking about other things, one word leads to another and after a very heated discussion, they end up having sex in the office. It is clearly a mistake, because it leaves them both even more empty, angry and confused.

    Life goes on and Whitney’s brother is in a bit of a pickle. He has Encanto on Ice tickets, planning to take his daughter and his pregnant wife, but his wife gave birth earlier than expected and it’s not exactly the right time to leave her alone with a baby. As he doesn’t want to disappoint his daughter, he asks Whitney if she can go. There are two adult tickets though, so in the spur of the moment, Whitney asks Andy to come along. After a very pleasant night and a brilliant show, Whitney and Andy decide to have a drink somewhere. Things take yet again an unexpected turn and they end up hot and breathless on the sofa, but they accept their encounters are only a temporary thing: it will all be over as soon as Andy leaves San Francisco.

    In the meantime, Andy manages to persuade Jenn to take part in the docu-series, so she starts shooting at Gia, meaning that Whitney is forced to see Andy more often than she would like. During a conversation with her mother, Whitney tells her that Andy is back in town, and the woman suggests she should talk to her ex and see why she really left all those years ago, clear up the air and finally move on.

    The dreaded conversation takes place, but what comes out of it sheds a new light on many things, giving them a totally new perspective on their past, but, most of all, starting a nuclear fallout that will break down all the walls they built and allow them to have the much dreaded resolution they deserve.

    What do I think about ‘Take Two’? Well, Stephanie Shea has done it again. But bigger and better. I simply loved her book! It’s a clean story, with lots of twists and a much more realistic setting that the previous one. This is a book that girls can identify with, because many of them might have gone through the same things. It’s the (in)famous ‘the right person at the wrong time’ situation, and the kind of story we want to read when approaching LGBTQ+ books.

    Romance as a genre is fine, there is nothing wrong with an old fashioned love story, it’s appealing to many and I can see why: we need that bit of hope at the end of another stressful day, we crave that escape, we would pay good money for Prince(ss) Charming to sweep us off our feet and take care of all our problems. But so many times stories are artificial, unrealistic and not at all relatable. That is not the case with ‘Take Two’. What Stephanie writes about could have happened to me, or you, or your neighbour, it might be happening right now or in 10 years’ time; we’ve all made poor choices based on fear and we’ve all had to deal with the consequences; we can all think of situations where in hindsight we could have done things differently, perhaps hope to have a second chance, to explain or repair a damage. Most of the times, we don’t. But this story gives us hope, strength and courage. It’s never too late, don’t give up yet, believe you can do it, and if you can’t, be proud of yourself for trying.

    A brilliant, brilliant read, a confirmation of Stephanie’s talent, a massive improvement from the previous efforts and the certainty she will continue on the same upward path with her next book. People, get reading now!


    A Unique Space for Us

    The debut novel by Chantell Monique

    A Unique Space for Us. Chantell Monique Romance, 2022.

    Once upon a time there were two races: Humans and Aechaihs, a super race of demi-gods who had existed for thousands of years. The two used to co-exist in peace and harmony, ruled by Queen Aniyah, the last Aechaih governor married to a human man, Rhoman. It was under her reign that the Rhoman Massacre took place. Queen Aniyah’s husband, helped by a bunch of other humans, killed the queen and their unborn baby, decimated the Aechaih population and destroyed Human-Aechaih relations. The Aechaihs reacted by establishing a human enclave inside the city, governed by the Tri-Family Council, representing the three most powerful Aechaih families: Haslem, Syon and Tarnicon.

    A good 700 years go by since the Rhoman’s Massacre and a thin and precarious balance exists between the two races, with tensions still running high. Until the city wakes up to the news that a human killed an Aechaih.

    Fellowship Dancy, a human detective of the Trianah Metropolitan Police Department, is assigned to the case and, despite her wariness towards the Aechaihs, she is willing to do all she can to avoid a war between the two races and see the little privileges humans still have be eroded even more.

    Fellowship is well known by the local population for her efforts to maintain peace between the two factions, going beyond her detective job. She understands that education plays a key role in avoiding the further spread of hate and incomprehension, so she also works as a teacher in the local college, where she tries to facilitate integration and keep young humans out of trouble. One day she organises a trip for her class to Queen Aniyah’s Temple. While Fellowship and her students are gathered right outside, ready to go back, she notices something wrong. Gunshots are fired from a car and to protect her students, Fellowship is caught in the line of fire and gets seriously injured. Hyphen Haslem, the heir of Haslem family, is, by pure luck, close to the location and intervenes immediately. The situation appears critical and Hyphen does the only thing he can to save Fellowship: he spreads his wings and flies her to the Septain Memorial, the Aechaihs’ hospital.

    Something’s not quite right though: Hyphen is not supposed to fly and the two should’t be able to men-com. Aechaihs used to have wings, but in a past so far it almost seemed like a legend; plus, some can men-com (mentally communicate with each other), but Fellowship is a human and she’s not supposed to have that ability. They blame it on the fact that the injuries she sustained almost killed her, but the two can still men-com even after she’s completely recovered.

    Despite his prestigious origins, Hyphen is the family black sheep: he is an inspector, something his father regards as a passing fancy, he has wings, that are recorded as a ‘defect’ on his birth certificate and he absolutely despises his father’s policies inside the Tri-Family Council, consecrated to keep humans in a lower position and using the Aechaih’s murder to justify limiting their existence even further.

    Fellowship and Hyphen will find themselves working shoulder to shoulder on the case, and unfortunately two more deaths will follow, in a brutal escalation of tensions. They will be forced to spend a lot of time together and they will find out they have a lot in common, up to the point where they will no longer be able to deny their reciprocal attraction. 

    This is only the tip of the iceberg… Hypen and Fellowship’s story is everything but conventional and straightforward, not exactly along the lines of “boy meets girl, they fall in love, they are both detectives trying to solve a case and eventually succeed”, but quite the opposite! In an uninterrupted sequence of plot twists and jaw dropping revelations that I will not spoiler, this book is so action-packed it will leave you gasping for air.

    A Unique Space for Us is so much more than a fantasy/romance book, if you are willing to read between the lines: the segregation of humans by the Aechaihs recalls very closely the segregation that white people carried out towards the black community – in the US as well as South Africa – something that still has an impact on society today. It’s also led by a very strong female main character who is sassy, black, in her early 40s and absolutely unapologetic about how she lives her life, and God only knows if we need more of these heroines! The narrative is simple, efficient and clear to follow, the story proceeds at a fast pace and glues you to the page. There are the occasional slip ups (for example I would have done with less detailed clothing descriptions and words of endearment such as “baby and sweetheart” between Fellowship and Hyphen), but that perhaps comes down to the fact that this is Monique’s debut novel. These definitely don’t take much away from the story itself that is absolutely brilliant, thrilling, romantic and almost hypnotic.

    I really enjoyed this read and I would have probably enjoyed it even more with a nice glass of Zion’s Ink whiskey, as they drink in Trianah. I can’t wait for Monique to give us more!

    A Unique Space for Us is available for purchase at:

    About Chantell Monique

    Chantell Monique believes that love embraces and accepts without conditions, a simple truth found at the heart of her stories. When she’s not creating dynamic couples in magical and contemporary worlds, she’s usually reading or in search of a binge-worthy show. A mental health advocate and self-love enthusiast, Chantell resides in the Midwest with her lovable pooch, Beans (source:


    Neil Peel’s Holiday

    A Novel by Ben Dixon

    Neil Peel’s Holiday. Ben Dixon, 2021 (Cover Design by Simon Green).

    Neil Peel’s Holiday (sequel to Ben Dixon’s 2020 novel The Heroic Truths of Neil Peel) narrates the real-life adventures of 12 years old Neil, who lives with his slightly dysfunctional but perfectly pleasant family in a small village called Lower Piercing.

    “Honesty: my strength and my curse.” Teenage years can be challenging, but even more so if, like Neil, you always tell the truth. He just can’t help himself. Neil is a fundamentally shy, peculiar and curious boy trying to deal with growing up the best way he can. If only he could lie a little… the good thing is, people always know where they stand with him. In the words of Ben Dixon, “Neil lacks the elementary coordination needed to succeed” (both in PE and life); for this reason, he often finds himself in awkward situations (if not actual trouble) but always manages to wing it somehow.

    The story takes place between Lower Piercing and Majorca, where Neil goes on holiday with his family and Steve’s, his best friend. The two have a completely different approach to how they want to enjoy their time there: while Neil is more interested in adventure than girls (he has a crush on a classmate and doesn’t see anybody else), Steve wants to meet a nice girl to practice “severe tongue interaction” (or STI). Neil eventually gives in and makes space in his holiday for Steve’s crush, the lovely Shamone Eehi from Egypt. This part of the story in particular is narrated with a touch of irony and extreme care, focusing on Neil’s feelings as he faces up to the fact that he does not have any relationship experience and recognises he may not be ready just yet.

    Adding to these already challenging circumstances Neil had not planned for, his sister Lemony – with whom he has a true love-hate relationship – is also caught up in a spot of summer romance with waiter Stijve Tepels, who will eventually reveal his true colours, thanks to Neil’s relentless efforts to expose him for the shady character he is. This misadventure is a way to temporarily bond with his sister, as he tries to protect and vindicate her. Other unexpected and very funny holiday incidents include: unwelcome contact with topless ladies, a missing key at the bottom of the ocean, an unwanted visit to the Sugar Tots Club run by entertainment enthusiasts Ann Francisco e Felix Navidad, and a series of other embarrassing moments Neil could really have done without. The book ends with Neil returning to school and meeting a new archenemy, paving the way to Book Three.

    There is only one way I can describe Neil Peel’s Holiday: clever, clever, clever. Hilarious at times and most certainly funny and witty, the story is well built from beginning to end, with no dull or slow moments. In addition to being an outstanding writer, Ben Dixon is very imaginative and successfully manages to create a very complex world around young Neil, made of awkward moments, mannerisms that make Neil unique and very real, as well as words (ever hear of “knickergred”?) and worlds that are a product of Neil’s fervid imagination.

    Do not be fooled: Neil Peel’s Holiday is everything but a children’s book; it can be read by a younger audience of course – your children won’t be disappointed – but I strongly suggest you give it a go too, it won’t disappoint you either.

    Ben Dixon’s books are available for purchase at:

    About Ben Dixon

    Ben Dixon is a father of four children, teacher of French and the author behind the hilarious world of Neil Peel. He grew up in Yorkshire, grew up a bit more in Leicestershire before moving to settle in Surrey. The Heroic Truths of Neil Peel was his first novel, published in 2020. Neil Peel’s Holiday was the sequel published in 2021. He lives in Guildford with his wife, Sarah, and children, Sophie, Isabelle, Max and Kiera (source:


    Missed Connection

    Book Two of the series A Gia, San Francisco Romance by Stephanie Shea

    Missed Connection. Stephanie Shea, 2022.

    It’s right after Christmas and we are in sunny and cheerful Australia, inside an airport lounge. Avery, a brokenhearted American girl who spent her Christmas holidays miles and miles away from home, is all but cheerful. The whole trip had been planned to spend time with her long-distance boyfriend Oli, but the knob dumped her right before her plane to Australia took off, leaving Avery with no other choice than travelling there anyway. She obviously didn’t reach Australia in her best mind frame, but she was determined to make the best of this experience. While she did enjoy partying and meeting new people, with the occasional tear here and there, she can’t really say she feels sad when it’s time to go back home to the States.

    While she is at the airport bar, waiting for her flight to be announced, she meets a girl, Kyla, who suggests her the best type of coffee to cure a hangover – a coconut iced coffee. Avery follows her suggestion, there is a brief exchange and Avery has the feeling Kyla is flirting, but she doesn’t want to give too much credit to it, even if she feels flattered. It’s not the first time another woman compliments her in such a way, she says to herself. There is no need to have butterflies in her stomach, right? Especially because she will never see Kyla again.

    She is so terribly wrong.

    In fact, for a weird twist of fate, Kyla is not only on her same plane, but also on the seat next to hers. And since Sidney – San Francisco takes a very long time, what’s wrong with spending it having a chat with your neighbour? Even sharing a kiss that won’t have any future does not feel wrong, even though it leaves them both hungry for more.

    Avery stops in San Francisco, where she lives and works at Gia’s Restaurant (the main pillar of the whole book series) while Kyla continues her journey to Rio. She is a travel influencer and, as much as she’d love to stop in San Francisco, she has previous work commitments she needs to attend to. They exchange Instagram handles, leaving a few likes here and there, but it’s not until Kyla’s birthday that they start a message exchange, timid at first but more and more intense as times goes on.

    Six months go by and the two girls are once again under the same sky. Kyla is in San Francisco for a whole month, at the end of which she will attend her best friend’s wedding. She knows Avery lives there, but she avoided telling her, wanting to surprise her. When they finally meet, Avery is not only surprised, but also taken aback: what now? Because one thing is online, another is face to face. What she is feeling for Kyla is different under so many points of view. She never had a crush on a woman, but to her memory, she’s never felt anything like that for anyone else before. Is she running recklessly into something new and exciting and maybe a bit crazy just to get over Oli or is there something more?

    Destiny will give her a hand to better understand the situation. In fact, on the day they agree to go out for lunch, Avery receives a call from the handyman of the building where she lives: her apartment has a leak. She rushes home, or better, Kyla takes her, only to find out that the leak is, in reality, a proper flood, the ceiling of her living room caved in, water all over the floor and urgent repairs will take at least two weeks. Two weeks where, clearly, she needs to find alternative accommodation. Kyla offers to host her and while Avery has plenty of other options, she accepts. This starts an unexpected cohabitation that will bring them even closer.

    The story itself is very pleasant and easy to read, ideal for taking your mind off the stress of everyday life (literature is all about escapism after all). It follows all the typical canons and patterns of romance books and thankfully glides on openly and overly-sexual scenes that can happily be left to the reader’s imagination. There are also some delicate themes throughout the narration: Kyla’s mother is an alcoholic that is trying to get clean again, leaving Kyla to ponder whether she should believe her mother’s good intentions or not; Avery’s parents divorced after her mother discovered that her father had an on-off relationship with another woman that produced a lovechild, Whitney, for whom Avery has mixed feelings – to meet her or not to meet her, that is the question. However, the story comes across as slightly naïve at times: there aren’t many women romance stories out there, and I do understand the genre needs to adhere to specific criteria, but because the literature itself is so scarce, why not populating it with something more than just the traditional clichés? It would give this book a whole new perspective and elevate it to the next level.

    Still, it is indeed a page turner, with a very well paced story and the right amount of action and characters’ internal conflict. In fact, we totally look forward to the next book in the series (end of October release) which we will be reviewing very soon!!

    The three books in the series A Gia, San Francisco Romance are available for purchase at:

    About Stephanie Shea

    Stephanie Shea is a self-proclaimed introvert, who spends her days in corporate daydreaming of becoming a full-time novelist. Her favorite things include binging tv shows, creating worlds where no character is too queer, broken or sensitive, and snacks. Lots of snacks. Someday, she hopes to curb her road rage, and get past her anxiety over social media and author bios.


    Beneath the Surface

    Book Four of the DCI Jane Birchfield Murder Mysteries by Heaton Wilson

    Beneath the Surface. The DCI Jane Birchfield Murder Mysteries. Heaton Wilson, 2022.

    The old adagio “starting in medias res” (i.e. into the midst of things) takes a whole new meaning in this recently released crime fiction novel. The opening pages of Beneath the Surface already contain all the core elements of a crime scene: a young woman, Mary MacDonald and her lover, Geoff Pegg are spending a spicy afternoon at her place in the small idyllic village of Cardale (just north of Manchester), when Rob Simmons, a local boy, runs into the side of the house with his tractor, causing the whole building to collapse on the two unlucky lovers, killing them instantly.

    DCI Jane Birchfield, the main character of all books in the series, begins to investigate. The first thing she wants to clarify is: was it an accident, was the driver drunk, was it a scorned rejected lover or were drugs involved? As a matter of fact, under the rubbles of what once was Mary’s cottage, the police finds a small bag containing a white powder that turns out to be cocaine. 

    Birchfield peruses all possibilities, but while Rob Simmons was probably tipsy – he himself declares he was at the pub before crushing into the cottage – he also mentions that the brakes of his tractor weren’t working properly. Birchfield decides to pay a visit to Sid Marsh, owner of Marsh Farm (and the tractor). Sid is a city boy who, tired and engrossed with London, decided to move up North with his wife Julie, where they bought a farm. Their dream is to successfully produce and sell organic products, proving to the locals they are not the rookies everyone believes, but things are not going as well as they hoped and, despite all their efforts, the Farm is in debt. For this reason, the tractor was not sent for the annual MOT. Birchfield is not totally sold on this version of events and continues her investigation.

    Behind closed doors, Sid and Julie Marsh are far from the idyllic couple they want to portray in public but are instead on the verge of divorce. He is a heavy drinker/borderline alcoholic, full of debts and in the process of selling part of his land to property developers. He did have a reason for wanting Mary dead, as she used to run the village residents group, in charge of preserving the local territory against savage property speculation.

    At the same time, though, there are plans afoot in the village for gas exploration, which are most welcome, as they will create new jobs within the struggling rural community. Sid and Julie strongly oppose these, as they would have a negative impact on the environment, destroy habitats and poison the atmosphere. One more reason to point at Sid as the most probable suspect.

    Things suddenly take a turn for the worse when, on his way back home after a night at the local pub, Rob Simmons is found unconscious in a nearby ditch. It seems like an accident, but he’s found with cocaine in his pocket and Jane is on the alert once again. She rightly decides to pursue the drugs lead, but what she will find out is totally unexpected and definitely impossible to imagine, in a twists and turns final that will leave readers’ heads spinning.

    ‘Beneath the Surface’ is simply brilliant: it’s well written, it shows the writer’s great knowledge of the Mancunian territory and population and it’s clear that a great amount of research on police procedures and investigative methods has gone into it. It’s an absolute page turner, from the beginning to the end, which is absolutely unexpected and unpredictable: in fact, there are no tell-tale signs of who is the real mastermind behind the whole drug ring.

    In addition, the intermissions provided by personal matters (a friends’ wedding, Jane and her former boyfriend trying to get back together, Ross and Lorry’s meaningful exchanges of personal problems in the police station cafeteria) make the characters vibrant, human and extremely likeable, drawing the reader even more into the story.

    The only thing that could probably be improved is the tone: at times the pace is too slow and not gripping enough. If you consider this is a thriller, as a reader I’d like to be constantly on my toes. However, this is a minor weakness that doesn’t take anything away from the story.

    Definitely a book I would read again and I do look forward to reading the other books in the series!

    ‘Beneath the Surface’ is a new release (August 2022) and is available at:

    About Heaton Wilson

    Originally from Manchester, he now lives on the beautiful Isle of Wight. When he’s not writing stories, he loves campervan trips and working outdoors, maintaining the garden against attack from sea breezes, bracken, brambles and rabbits; and walking his two dogs, Robbie and Twiggy. Heaton loves writing crime fiction and has published a series featuring the nice/tough/feisty DCI Jane Birchfield. All his other books (‘Every Reason’, ‘Whatever It Takes’ and ‘Retribution’) are available on Amazon. (source: