Wednesday, 18 April 2018

BOOK REVIEWS: Godfall and Other Stories, by Sandra M Odell; I Wore Heels To The Apocalypse, by CH Clepitt; The Last City: A Dust Anthology; A World of Darkness, by Joshua Griffith; Dragon Lords, by Chris Turner

Godfall and Other Stories, by Sandra M Odell

One of the delights of the ebook market is the ability to discover new writers. I likely wouldn't have found Sandra Odell's book on the shelf in my local bookstore - and that would have been a darn shame.
This collection of short stories is a delight and a treasure - yet it's more than your typical collection. There's a challenge here, a defiance. The stories are broadly within the fantasy and science fiction realm, but many of these tales scratch at itches under the skin, or make you feel the pain settled deeply into bones.
Nowhere is this better seen than in The Home For Broken. It's a story confronting the issues of disability - challenging the idea of people being broken. It's an agonising, painful story of parental choices, denial, and dealing with a life that has no easy choices. It's never been published outside of this collection, and it is absolutely worth your money alone.
But it's not alone. There are other gems scattered throughout this book. There's Godfall, the title story, with humanity mining the fallen corpses of deities as they crash to earth. There's The Poison Eater, bitter with the taste of small town life. There are issues of sexuality, sexual identity, gender roles (Black Widow absolutely kicks butt while exploring this), mortality (or immortality in The Vessel Is Never Empty), and far more, all wrapped around characters who are never soaring ideals but as screwed up and complicated as any of us. Like any collection, there will be stories that hit the mark with a reader and others that won't - I wasn't sold on the whimsy of A Troll's Trade, for example. That's not to diminish the work as a whole, though. This has quality throughout - not so long ago I read an Octavia Butler short story collection, and I couldn't help but feel reading this that Odell's work bore comparison. 
I read this book before going on holiday and didn't have time to write this review before taking off. All through the trip, parts of this book stayed with me. As a reader, it opened horizons. As a writer, it makes me want to do better. Go read it, you owe it to yourself.

AI Rating: 5/5

I Wore Heels To The Apocalypse, by CH Clepitt

Given the amount of work by CH Clepitt I've read already, I probably shouldn't have been surprised by the splendidly named I Wore Heels To The Apocalypse. And yet here I am, surprised and delighted in equal measure.
I Wore Heels ain't nothing but a good time. It's fun, it's a frolic, it's the end of the world. Kerry is a website designer inclined towards baggy clothes and comfy shoes when an unexpected apocalypse leaves her in her least favourite shoe choice and with an absence of transferrable skills. Not much use for html in the wilderness since she left her one-bedroom flat.
Instead, she finds herself caught up in less of a battle for survival, more a forage for comfort - all while her travelling companions deal with their own issues of sexual fluidity. The end of the world can apparently do great things for clearing out those social pressures preventing you from admitting your attraction to the same sex. They won't laugh at you down the pub any more, after all.
This is a quirky, perky ride, frequently making you giggle and chortle in ways that make people eye you suspiciously on the tube train. Don't worry about that, you never know when an apocalypse might come along to let you chortle in peace.
I Wore Heels is the best I've read yet by CH Clepitt - and I was already a fan.

AI Rating: 5/5

The Last City: A Dust Anthology

Back in the day, I used to be a big fan of the Thieves' World anthologies - shared-world stories inside a fantasy city by a host of great writers. So it was with some glee I picked up The Last City, a sci-fi version of something similar.
The city of the title is the last bastion of humanity, built into an asteroid and separated by levels which function not only as physical structure but as social strata. The further you go from the hieracrchy, the dirtier the city gets and the cheaper life feels.
The opening pair of stories do a great job of setting the scene - first there's Robert M Campbell's tale of an adventure gone wrong and the low lifes ready to exploit an opportunity for advancing themselves, then there's Jane Jago's fabulous tale of Sam Nero PI, a detective up against the odds but smart enough to make the most of the technology at his hands.
There's a real mix of tales here - you might not get the most cohesive feel for the city as a whole but you sure do get a glimpse at the fragmentary nature of life there.
I really enjoyed Thaddeus White's tale of a colony ship on the way to the city whose crew is forced to make tough choices, and it was great to encounter a new writer to me in Juliana Spink Mills, whose Blood Makes Noise both intrigued me with its exploration of an unusual death and had me humming Suzanne Vega all day.
This isn't the last we'll see of the Dust universe - I look forward to more.

AI Rating: 4/5

A World of Darkness, by Joshua Griffith

There's a decent starting premise in this book - but alas, it tends to go wayward after that.
After the apocalypse, supernatural creatures have tiptoed back out from the hidden places they had survived in during the time of mankind - and have now reasserted their dominance of Earth.
We start with a group of such beings thrown into an impromptu alliance as they try to escape imprisonment. There's a native American shapeshifter - the lead character - and his unexpected companions, a witch, a necromancer and a gremlin, who collectively hightail it out of there and seek refuge in an abandoned Costco.
So far, so good - but sadly we get so bogged down in descriptions of the large breasts of the red-headed companion and before you know it, it's all about whether the shapeshifter will be sleeping with one or both of his female companions as they get overexcited by his magical touch.
It's shallow, and it treats the female characters as little more than sex objects, and from where it started out, it really could have been much more.

AI Rating: 2/5

Dragon Lords, by Chris Turner

If you're into old-school fantasy, then this is what Chris Turner seems to be aiming for. You know the type of tale, full of derring-do, sword-swinging and busty maidens, the kind that Robert E Howard used to pack Conan off on.
The busty maiden in particular in this tale is introduced as "barely a day over sixteen" so the frequent mentions of her high proud perky breasts and the swiftness with which she hops into bed - or, well, nearby bush - with muscled hero Vetra is more than a little uncomfortable. Oh, and of course she's a feisty redhead too - why is it always feisty redheads? (And I say that as a redhead)
The story zips along, and Turner also incorporates some of the horror elements that Howard used to love too. If you're into such old-school swords and sorcery, you may well have a good deal of fun. I just wish it had steered clear of cliche and not had me feeling uncomfortable and muttering about the age of the perky redhead.

AI Rating: 2/5

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Meet Sharon Sasaki, author of Amazing Grace

S.E. Sasaki is a sci-fi author and member of the Sci-Fi Roundtable group. Beyond that, her history includes being a researcher in freshwater biology, cellular biology, and neurophysiology and working as a surgical assistant in the operating room. It's perhaps no surprise then that she brings a wealth of scientific attention to detail to her work! Welcome to Altered Instinct, Sharon - take it away!

Tell us a little about your most recent book - what is it called and what is it about? Give us your elevator pitch to make us fall in love with it!

The new book is titled Amazing Grace and it is about the trials and tribulations aboard a medical space station called the Nelson Mandela. It follows the adventures of Dr. Grace Lord, combat surgeon, who has come to the Nelson Mandela to train under the galaxy-renowned Dr. Hiro Al-Fadi, a specialist in operating on genetically modified, animal-adapted space marines. In this third book of the series, a ship called the Inferno docks with the station, containing six patients in cryopods. It is requesting these patients be treated for a new disease. What transpires is an all-out attack on the Nelson Mandela with the goal of wiping out the human race.

Elevator pitch:  ‘It’s high-octane M*A*S*H in Space with Aliens’

What inspired the story?

I like to write about today’s world issues. I cloak the issues in science fiction as it allows me to extrapolate ideas or expand on them without pointing specific fingers or stepping on specific toes. Amazing Grace deals with issues of intolerance: intolerance of others, religious intolerance, hatred, and prejudice. Today’s political atmosphere is ripe with intolerance and racism and I felt it needed to be addressed.

Without spoilers, what was your favourite moment of the story to write? What was it that made you enjoy that section so much?

I have to say that I adore Plant Thing . . . my alien. Plant Thing is the sweetest being and so much fun to write because it is discovering everything like a naive innocent child but Plant Thing is so misunderstood because it looks horrifying. Plant Thing symbolizes ‘The Other’, as well as ‘Nature’ in all of its glory. Everyone falls in love with Plant Thing.

As a writer, have you ever had a character grow to be a much bigger part of the story than you expected? Who was the character and what was it about them that made them emerge from the sidelights?

Yes. Dr. Jeffery Charlton Nestor. He was just going to be this gorgeous doctor that my main character developed a crush on. Then he morphed into this terrible psychopath who tries to kill her, then kill Dr. Al-Fadi, then destroy Bud, then destroy the medical station. I tried to kill him off in the first book, and he got away. I tried to kill him off in the second book but it didn’t go quite as I had planned. He is a genius arch villain. I definitely decided he had to die in the third book. You have to read Amazing Grace to see if I succeed.

What are your favourite genres to read - and what is it about those genres that draw you in?

Well I have always read science fiction from Grade Two on. My Grade Two homeroom teacher was also the librarian and he handed me A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and told me to read that. The concept of ‘The closest distance between two points is NOT a line but a wrinkle’ just blew me away. I was hooked. Then I had to get my hands on every SF book I could at the bookmobile, at the library, and finally at the bookstore when I could buy my own books. Now I am buried in SF books at home and a To Be Read pile that I will never finish. :P

I also like Mysteries because I like puzzles and I like to figure mysteries out. I read some Fantasy, some Horror, some Contemporary fiction, as well as Nonfiction.

Can I confess I've never yet read A Wrinkle In Time? It seemed to be standard reading on the western side of the Atlantic, but never really mentioned back in the UK where I grew up! What were some of your favourite books to read as a child? Which were the first books you remember falling in love with?

As a child I loved reading about mythology and I read the Greek myths and the Norse myths. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle was my first SF book, read in Grade Two, and I loved it. After that, there was Podkayne of Mars by Robert Heinlein and Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin. I read Dune by Frank Herbert in Grade Five and I was in awe. I had the Litany of Fear memorized! I read The Lord of the Rings in Grade Six and I must have read those three paperback books until they almost fell apart! I still love all those books.

Who are your favourite authors to read? Whose writing do you feel has inspired your own work the most?

Favourite Authors are easy but there are a lot of them! These are authors who I tended to buy whenever they put a new book out, sight unseen. Many are no longer with us, unfortunately.
Roger Zelazny, Gene Wolfe, Terry Pratchett, Lois McMaster Bujold, Connie Willis, Sherri Tepper, Ursula Le Guin, Richard K. Morgan, Joe Abercrombie, Ian McDonald, Dan Simmons, Steven Brust, Robert Sawyer, Patricia McKillop, Neal Stephenson, Neal Asher and probably a lot more I can’t think up right now…

I write comedy mixed with suspense/thriller. Bujold and Willis have comedy in their books. One reader described my books as a mashup of Game of Thrones meets Monty Python. Another reader (Shane!) said it was Doctor House meets Doctor Moreau. I like Terry Pratchett and I hope I capture some of the lightness of his Discworld books.

Are there any particular themes you address in your story? What issues do you explore, overtly or otherwise?

The Evil of Intolerance in all of its aspects - religious, genre-based, technologically-based, race-based - is a predominant theme. Prejudice of ‘lesser beings’ - in this case represented or symbolized by the androids and robots - would also be included in that. ‘Man versus Nature’ is an underlying theme, represented by Plant Thing. ‘Love conquers All’ or ‘Good overcomes Evil’ is probably the main plot theme. There are different types of love in Amazing Grace: love between friends, love between a father and a daughter, love between an android and human, love between an alien and a human, and unrequited love. LOVE, of course, wins out over Intolerance.

What do you do when you are not writing? Tell us about yourself.

I am a family physician who now spends all of her working hours in the operating room assisting in surgery, both elective and emergency. I spend a lot of nights, weekends, holidays, and early morning hours in the operating room when I am on call. That is partly why I write about operative medicine. It is a large part of my life. When I’m not writing or assisting in the OR, I am sleeping or trying to catch up on my sleep! Other hobbies include painting and creating collages, walking, downhill skiing, canoeing, kayaking, playing tennis, scuba diving, swimming, travelling, and at the moment, my husband and I are attempting salsa dancing lessons. It’s not going so well, but we are determined! Motion is Lotion.

Where can readers catch up with your work?  

Twitter:    @se_sasaki


Thanks for calling by, Sharon - though we missed our traditional last question of what you're reading at the moment and what the best book you've read in the past year has been! I swear I'll lure you back in the comments section... ;)

Good luck with the launch of Amazing Grace, and I look forward to reading the series! 

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Join the Easter Egg Hunt and win free books!

Attention book lovers! I've got a challenge for you - join the Sparkly Badgers Easter Egg Hunt! I wouldn't offer a challenge without a potential reward, though - each of the authors taking part in the hunt are offering free books to prize winners. So, how can you take part? Read on, below!

Do you like to read? Do you like FREE books? Come join the Sparkly Badgers Easter Egg Hunt on Facebook. All you have to do is stop over on the event page, we give you the first website, and off you go. Look for an egg on each website that links to the next one in line. Collect the letters and unscramble the anagram. Then tell us the answer to be entered in for a chance to win 15 eBooks from some eggtastic indie authors.
Be sure to follow all the authors on Twitter so you can keep up with all their latest news and adventures in writing:

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Meet CH Clepitt, author of I Wore Heels To The Apocalypse

Regular readers of my blog will be familiar with CH Clepitt. She's the writer behind the Crew Chronicles series - which I've reviewed every release yet - as well as the Lineage series of modern vampire tales. I haven't yet dived into her books I Wore Heels To The Apocalypse - despite its fabulous name - and its sequel. That's merely a matter of time, I assure you. Beyond her books, she is also a very supportive enthusiast of indie writers, and a fan of, well, badgers. But let's let her tell you all about that. 

Tell us a little about your most recent book – what is it called, and what is it about? Give us your elevator pitch to make us fall in love with it!

My most recent full length book is Everything is Better With a Cape: The Second Part to I Wore Heels to the Apocalypse.  Everyone loved the characters from Heels so much that a sequel was almost essential, but I'd already squeezed all the satire I could out of the Apocalypse, so this one had to be a super hero spoof.  If you like supersonic sarcastic badgers, you should really give this one a try!

What inspired the story?

I love super hero films, it is one of my favourite genres, but in spite of recent improvements, with characters like Anissa in Black Lightning, and Sarah in Legends of Tomorrow (both series rather than films) there is very limited LGBTQ+ representation within the genre.  As indie authors, we are in a unique position to rectify under-representation, and as almost all of my characters from Heels are LGBTQ+, what better way to achieve this, and kill two birds with one stone? As with all satire, I make some serious points, but it's a fun story, so give it a try.

Who are your favourite authors to read? And whose writing do you feel has inspired your own work most?

I love reading Sarah Waters. You can tell the amount of research that goes into writing her books, reading them you feel like you're in whatever time period she has set her story in, and the characters are so real, it's amazing.  I also love Phillip Pullman's Dark Materials, which was the first series of books I actually read for pleasure, and Neil Gaiman. In terms of Indie authors, I would recommend checking out Rose Montague, Claire Buss (The Rose Thief is particularly good) N C Stow and I'm sure I'm missing loads, so hit me up on Twitter!

Are there any particular themes you address in your story? What issues do you explore, overtly or otherwise?

Wow... I am fairly... erm... opinionated.... there tend to be politics running throughout my books, and they aren't too subtle, you should spot them...

What has been your favourite reaction from readers?

What touched me most about Heels was people saying that they could really relate to it, it made me feel like I'd done something right.  It's always wonderful when people tell you that they enjoy something you've written, it makes it all worthwhile.

What’s next for you as a writer? What’s cooking in your literary kitchen?

I have a fantasy and a sci-fi on the brew, along with several more episodes in my short story series. Watch this space.

What’s the most fun piece of technology/magic that you’ve included in your novel that you wish you had in real life?

Peter's knock out pen. If I had a pen like that I'd be knocking out annoying people left, right and centre!

What has been your most satisfying moment as a writer so far? What made you punch the air?

I had a brilliant Sabotage Review of Heels, it was amazing, because a friend told me they aren't backwards about coming forwards if they don't like something, so it felt really good to know that they'd liked it.

Away from books, what are your loves when it comes to TV and movies? (Altered Instinct will plant a flag on behalf of Quantum Leap, Babylon 5, Stargate, The West Wing and Star Wars, and fight to protect it!)

I am very upset that you have not included Buffy in your list... I am really into all the DC series at the moment, Arrow, Legends, Supergirl, Black Lightning. They are doing an amazing job.

Are your books available in audio format? How have you found the process of transforming it from the written page?

I am in the process of turning all of my books and short stories into Audio.  The process has been very rewarding. I wasn't holding out much hope of getting a narrator, as I didn't have the budget to pay up front, so offered all the stories as royalty share.  All the sites say you are unlikely to get any auditions going down this route, but I have been absolutely overwhelmed by the number and the quality.  What it has told me is my books are good enough, and other people believe it too, and that is an amazing feeling.  The narrators I am working with are brilliant and have done an amazing job on the stories. 

Wait, what's this in the middle of the interview? Someone has gone and gatecrashed with an Easter egg hunt! Oh well, you'd best explore and find out more. Go on, click it. Right after you read the rest of the article, of course!

Marketing is always a challenge for writers – to share the love, what have you found the most useful tip for spreading the word about books?

Honestly, marketing is something I really struggle with. The best tip I can give you is keep plugging and don't get disheartened.  People need to see a thing something like 7 times before it stays with them, so just plug, plug, plug!

I have to ask for readers who might want to know: Is this a kissing book?

Er... yes...? There is kissing in the book... and sometimes boys kiss boys and girls kiss girls, which some readers have found a touch confusing...

I love the short story series that you do - particularly the Crew Chronicles and Lineage. What plans do you have for those for the future?

I am excited to say that Lineage: Of Blood will be out on audio later this month, and I am currently writing the third in that series.  I am also in the process of producing audio for The Crew Chronicles, so will be working on the next in that series soon.

Where can readers follow you to find out more about your work?

You can sign up for my newsletter:  I send about one every three to four months, so you won't be overwhelmed. Or alternatively you can like me on or follow me on Twitter at I also have an author group on Facebook, which you can join here:

A traditional question here at Altered Instinct – what are you reading at present, and what is the best book you’ve read in the past year?

I am currently reading The Well of Loneliness, and the best thing this year so far is probably Fracture: Divergence by Eric Schubach.

Thanks for stopping by, it's been a pleasure to have you stop by. Swing on back anytime - especially if you've got more Crew Chronicles! 

Thanks for having me.

Check out CH Clepitt's books on Amazon here

I Wore Heels To The Apocalypse is free to download over Easter weekend. Check it out at the link below. 

Monday, 26 March 2018

Meet author and poet Jane Jago, co-creator of the Dai and Julia Mysteries

After something of a hiatus, the Altered Instinct Q&As return with the splendid Jane Jago putting her best foot forward to tell us about her work. Jane is a poet, author, enthusiastic reader and reviewer and... well, we'll just let her tell us more, shall we? Here's Jane. Oh, and I've just been reading her story about space detective Sam Nero in the depths of The Last City as part of an anthology titled such, all part of a collaborative world collection. It was a highlight, and a full review will follow this week. 

Hi there, and welcome to Altered Instinct, Jane!

Tell us a little about your most recent book – what is it called, and what is it about? Give us your elevator pitch to make us fall in love with it!

I’m going to go for the work in progress. It’s called ‘Who Pulled Her Out?’ - although I can’t tell you why (spoiler alert). And it’s an everyday story of white supremacists, identity theft, and the abuse of  privilege.

When Ben and Joss Beckett find out their twin daughters are being bullied at school it’s not something they are prepared to sit back and watch - especially when they find out the bully is the girls’ teacher. Exposing the woman’s secret agenda pulls them into a mire of claim and counter-claim and lays them open to attack from a group of people who have no morals and no compunction.

What inspired the story?

I’m never sure what my inspiration for any book is. Maybe I  react to how I perceive the world around me, or maybe I just like to tell a rattling good tale.

The Last City features Jane's story Sam Nero PI - check out my full review coming later this week.  

What are your favourite genres to read – and what is it about those genres that draws you in? 

Oh crikey. That’s like asking me to choose my favourite booze. Impossible. I like anything well written and not too predictable. I don’t read a lot of romance, and I’m not a fan of what people refer to as hard sci-fi. Otherwise you name it and I’m probably reading it. I particularly admire well crafted fantasy, where the world the author creates sustains itself and remains believable throughout. Even comic fantasy needs a credible world or it falls on its bottom.

I think I'm the same in that regard! I love those worlds where you want to keep exploring beyond the boundaries of the story. What were some of your favourite books to read as a child? Which were the first books you remember falling in love with?

I’m not precisely a young person, so my childhood favourites are less glamorous than those of the younger generations. I read Kipling, Enid Blyton, Frances Hodgson Burnet, Captain WE Johns (Biggles), Captain Marryat (The Children of the New Forest), and later the children’s stories of Elizabeth Goudge and Joan Aiken. The first book I ever fell deeply in love with was The Secret Garden, and I can still read it with enormous pleasure. The next piece of writing to fire my imagination was The Song of Songs, also called the Song of Solomon, found in The Old Testament. I think it was the first piece of lyric prose I ever read and it painted such vivid pictures in my mind.

And finally, on the topic of childhood reading, my most cherished memory is of being read to by my parents. It’s something I will never cease to hold dear no matter how long is my life.

Jane's puppy Barney, clearly patiently waiting for her to finish writing and start playing...

Who are your favourite authors to read? And whose writing do you feel has inspired your own work most?

Now I’m all grown up my favourite authors are as varied as my taste in books. Guy Gavriel Kay, Sir Terry Pratchett, Georgette Heyer, JD Robb. Of indies, I will read anything E.M Swift-Hook writes, and I’m also a fan of Chrys Cymry’s Penny White books.

Are there any particular themes you address in your story? What issues do you explore, overtly or otherwise?

This book does have a stab at some themes I seem to return to in various forms. Prejudice and dislike, balanced by friendship and love. I am also drawn to writing about ordinary people who are dragged into extraordinary situations and what mechanisms they find to cope with those  challenges.

What’s next for you as a writer? What’s cooking in your literary kitchen?

Next up from my literary oven will be book six of the Dai and Julia Mysteries series of novellas. Written in collaboration with my dear friend E. M. Swift-Hook. I can tell you nothing about that. On pain of death.

I'll just go get some info from E.M. about that then! What’s the most fun piece of technology/magic that you’ve included in your novel that you wish you had in real life?

The most satisfying piece of magic in my books to date has been demon hunting, requiring both magic and berserker strength and fury. You have to literally wrestle demons into submission. It’s an awful lot of fun to write.

Here's hoping there's not so many demons to wrestle in real life! You get stuck on an island and had only one book packed in your travel bag before the ship went down – what book do you hope you have in there?

The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay. My second favourite of his works, but the longest... being a trilogy available in one volume.

Where can readers follow you to find out more about your work?

At the links below! 

A traditional question here at Altered Instinct – what are you reading at present, and what is the best book you’ve read in the past year?

I’m reading Necrotic City by Leland Lydecker and Secrets in Death by JD Robb. And I’m pleading the fifth on the rest of the question. I have enough enemies already...

Ha, well I'll let you duck that one just this time! Just this time! Thank you very much for joining us, Jane, it's been a pleasure! 

You can find out more about Jane's super secret Dai and Julia collaboration at the following link - but don't stop there, do go explore her other work too: