On reviews


Every now and again, a book comes along which makes me rethink how I do the ratings on books that I review.

Recently I finished Becky Chamber’s The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet and realised that whilst I’ve posted up a fair few five star reviews, here was a book which was so good, which I loved so much, that I really needed to rethink how I handed out my ratings.

I’ve gone back through my Goodreads reviews and shuffled them accordingly. From now on, five stars is reserved for those books which you read and immediately know that you’re going to pester people to read. Stuff like Red Rising and Golden Son, Snowblind, Banished or Tracer. Books which I love.

Books which I will rave about, and will nag you to read.


Now, a four star review is still a great book. One which I’ve enjoyed a lot, and would probably pester you to read if I know that you enjoy that particular author or genre. Recommended, and popped on the shelf.

Three stars and we’re into ‘well, it was fine‘ territory. Books which you read, and whilst the time spent reading was perfectly enjoyable, you don’t really feel the need to re-read or even keep the book. I might pass them along if I know you like that sort of thing, or donate them to the charity shop.

Two stars and below? Not often worthy of a review unless it really calls for it. Take Matthew Reilly’s Great Zoo of China. A firm two stars, and only really reviewed because I am (or was) a huge fan of his early work. They were great fun, stratospherically high concept thrillers which were fantastically silly but enjoyable. Great Zoo… wasn’t. So disappointing.

So, there we have it. Dave’s New Review Rating System.

Now, go read Becky Chamber’s The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet, or Red Rising and Golden Son. You can thank me later.

Trigger Mortis, by Anthony Horowitz

Ah, Mister Bond. I've been expecting you. #Bond #007 #TriggerMortis

Trigger Mortis is a pitch-perfect Bond. Possibly the closest to Fleming’s Bond in any of the Bond stories I’ve read. Once I got past the seemingly-daft title (which does make sense as played out in the story), we get to a cracking tale of classic Bond adventure. Trigger Mortis follows immediately on the heels of Goldfinger, with Bond and Pussy Galore back in London. It’s not long before Bond is off on another mission, this time to race the Nürburgring and foil an assassination attempt against a British driver. But not all is as it seems, and soon Bond is embroiled in a bigger tale, one which threatens New York.

Horowitz’s Bond is superbly authentic, with a real feel for the character as written by Fleming. There are a couple of places in the book which, plot-wise, feel like slight mis-steps, but the action is such that they’re soon forgotten.

Very confidently written, and I hope Mr Horowitz has the chance to dabble in 007’s world again soon.

The goal is to make a thing

There really is no excuse if you want to make things, if you want to be a creative person who makes things. There’s really no reason not to do it other than, if you’re like me, the fear, right?
And the fear is that ‘well it’s going to suck’ or ‘it’s not going to be worth my time’ or ‘it’s not going to be the way that it’s going to be.’

The goal is not to be perfect. The goal is to make a thing where there wasn’t a thing before.

~Wil Wheaton, Radio Free Burrito, episode 43


You have the power. You have the voodoo. You’ve got the ability to motivate yourself. You needn’t look for external things. You want time? Grab it. You need inspiration? Drill it up out of your own heart. You want motivation? Write. Write your way to it, then write your way through it. You are not beholden to anything outside yourself.

You are beholden only to yourself.

I posted an interview with a difference yesterday – one in which Monty, main character of some of my pieces of writing, got to interview me, his writer. I’d originally posted that piece in 2011 – a friend found it and liked it, so I brushed off the original, gave it a bit of a polish and posted it up.

Amusingly, to me at least, I’ve *still* not finished any of the myriad of Monty stories I’ve started over the years. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of stories I’ve actually finished.

So, what’s stopping me? Partly The Fear, as Wil Wheaton says. Whatever I write isn’t going to be awesome enough. I want it to be great out of the box, perfect first time.

Which is silly. First drafts are *supposed* to suck. Everyone knows that, right?

Partly the lack of gumption to see it through (thanks Rachel, for that brilliant word!). There are too many other things to distract. Oh look! Season 6 of Castle on Amazon Video!

Partly the lack of time. Time spent watching Castle after the kids are finally in bed. Time spent out doing Real Life things. Time away from home, seeing friends, doing stuff.

There’s enough time in the day. You just need to choose to use it.

Writers write.

Author interview with a difference

Choose one of your characters, and tell us a story that has them describe YOU as an author by using the character’s voice to let us know a little bit about both of you.

“So, you’re him,” Monty said. He leaned back in his chair and sipped a latte from an oversized mug.

Molly looked up from her laptop. She’d been tapping away at the keyboard ever since I arrived, looking up only as the barista had brought my coffee. I noted the look that passed between the two women and smiled to myself. They made a lovely couple, even if I said so myself.

“Yes, that’s him. I’ve been checking out his online accounts. Seems like you’re quite the online socialite.” She ran a finger down the screen. “Flickr, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter… Oh, so much Twitter. Even a Google Plus account. Didn’t realise people still used that. And Ello! Crikey.”

“Quite a number of dormant accounts too – mostly LiveJournal clones, random Blogger accounts. Registered on dozens of online forums. And an… interesting selection of domains registered in your name.”

I wasn’t surprised, obviously. I’d given Molly a health set of geek credentials, not to mention a rather nice new laptop courtesy of Monty’s bank account. Monty just hadn’t realised it yet.

He was my favourite, I had to admit.

No, wait. Scratch that. They were my favourites. Whilst Monty had started his adventures alone, many years ago, it was only when Molly had turned up as his erstwhile personal assistant/hacker that the adventures had really taken off. As their author, it was quite scary how sometimes I just had to sit back and let them exchange witty one-liners whilst I worked out where the particularly adventure in question was going.

“So, Mister So-called-author. I bet you’re wondering why I called you here today?” Monty said.

I nodded. It’s not every day that you get a message from one of your fictional characters via your Facebook account. I wondered if I’d given Molly a few too many geek credentials, and resolved to change all of my online passwords just to be on the safe side.

“Well, my dear boy. It boils down to this. You’ve spent many many years now writing us into some quite splendid adventures,” he paused briefly to finish off his coffee, waved his mug at the cute barista and continued.

“But there’s one thing I’d really like to know.”

“What’s that?” I asked, curious to see what Mister Edward Montecron, ace gentleman thief, coffee lover and product of my imagination, could possibly want to know.

“Are you ever going to actually finish writing a story?”

Fair point. Jenny, the cute barista, arrived with a fresh mug of coffee for Monty and a wink for Molly. She briefly gave me a thumbs-up, pointed at Molly and mouthed ‘thank you’ to me. I blushed.

“See, you’ve written us into dozens of story snippets. Dozens! Usually half-way through some daring adventure. All kinds of crazy goings on.”

“There was the one with the dragons,” Molly interrupted.

“Yes! Case in point! Big, nasty dragons, with teeth the size of… ” he trailed off, thoughtful. “Though that was a bit of a departure for you. Usually it’s jewels, to be fair. That, and dangling from precarious ledges whilst being chased by armed security.”

He waggled a finger at me.

“Well? Are you ever going to finish one of our adventures?”


Amusingly (to me at least), I wrote this back in 2011. Still haven’t finished a Monty story.


Sewing the Shadows Together by Alison Baillie

Sewing The Shadows Together - cover

Can you ever get over the death of your sister? Or of your best friend?

More than 30 years after 13-year-old Shona McIver was raped and murdered in Portobello, the seaside suburb of Edinburgh, the crime still casts a shadow over the lives of her brother Tom and her best friend Sarah.

“Shona had been gone for so long but the memories still came unexpectedly, sometimes like a video from the past, sometimes distorted dreams, but she was always there.”

When modern DNA evidence shows that the wrong man was convicted of the crime, the case is reopened. So who did kill Shona? Sarah and Tom are caught up in the search for Shona’s murderer, and suspicions fall on family and friends. The foundations of Sarah’s perfect family life begin to crumble as she realises that nothing is as it appears. Dark secrets from the past are uncovered, and there is another death, before the identity of the real killer is finally revealed…

Set in Edinburgh, the Outer Hebrides and South Africa, Sewing the Shadows Together is a thoroughly modern murder mystery that keeps the reader guessing to the end. Filled with characters who could easily be friends, family or people we work with, it asks the question:

Do we ever really know the people closest to us?

I’m delighted to be part of the blog tour for Alison Baillie’s book. I was more than a little surprised to discover that it’s her debut novel – the writing is assured and the characters wonderfully drawn. And what an ensemble cast of characters they are.

The story shifts from Tom’s perspective, returning home to Scotland to scatter his mother’s ashes, to his old school friend Sarah, Shona’s best friend at school, each revealing a little more of the goings-on around the old group of friends. I loved the character of Rory Dunbar, Sarah’s husband and larger-than-life, full of confidence popular TV show host. Sarah’s mother is also brilliant, deliciously acerbic towards her daughter but fawning over her famous son-in-law. It’s definitely a character-driven piece, with the mystery underpinning the family tensions and causing the inevitable cracks to show.

As the story unfolds, you’re presented with plenty of suspects on offer, and just when you think you’ve been awfully clever and sussed out who the killer actually is, another clue or event comes along and makes you rethink it! Skillfully done and certainly keeps you on your toes guessing…

The book has a great sense of location too. As with some of the recent Scandinavian crime I’ve been reading, I really like it when the author gives you a real feel for the place the story plays out in, and Alison has done a fine job of that and clearly knows the areas well. There’s a lovely little interlude in the Outer Hebrides which gives the mystery a little time to breathe before diving back into Edinburgh and Portobello.

Sewing the Shadows Together is a tale that leaves you wanting more, just another chapter to uncover another snippet of the lives of the friends, another shard in the mystery of what happened to Shona. Highly recommended.

There are still a couple more days to go on the blog tour – be sure to check them out!

Thanks to Michael Linane and Alison Baillie for the review copy of Sewing the Shadows Together, in exchange for an honest review. As always, the opinions in the review are entirely mine.
Alison Taylor-Baillie