Category Archives: Reviews

Magical and magnificent, bewitching and beautiful

bring back home - digital coverA review of Bring Back Home, by Ange Hardy.

First of all, that cover by Michael Cook. Absolutely a work of art. You can’t tell from the picture there, but it shines luxuriously with gold leaf on willow-leaf and moon-crest. You’ll want to have a bit of a fondle, and why not?

When you’ve finished pleasuring yourself that way, you big weirdo, surrender yourself to the music. With the addition of Lee Cuff on cello and Peter Knight – a long-time hero of mine – on fiddle, Ange’s sixth studio outing has an extra, beguiling layer of complex beauty over and above the mesmerising song-writing and rhythmical nous of her preceding albums (the glorious Esteesee is a standout album that everyone should own).

These are songs by a master-songwriter, performed with flair and confidence. I’m not going to bang on about every track individually, but I must single out the album opener, Sisters Three. It’s three minutes and fifty-nine seconds of sheer, bloody, untrammelled joy. It had me leaping and dancing like an eejit, not a sight oft seen in these days of dry age. It also begs to be written as a short story, and I’ll be on that like a tramp on chips, if Ange doesn’t mind. From the haunting, violin-wail strangeness of The Hunter, The Prey (part of Ange’s ‘mother Willow Tree’ sequence of songs) to Chase the Devil Down (a song to give strength to all of us who find our loving hearts pierced occasionally by the steel teeth of the uncaring modern world), every song here is equally strong, equally stirring, and each an instant classic.

More than anything, I love the landscape of Ange’s songs – in her own words, “Willow trees and streams interspersed with dense woodlands, immense trees with tremendous root structures.” It’s a land of wonders. Join me, and let us adventure in that country with a smile on our faces and dance in our steps. The rewards are legion. I love this album so much that my inner editor even forgives the occasional spelling error in the booklet, and so will you. wombicon5It’s right champion, this music. Makes my old blood sing. Five wombats out of five.


Review: The Passing of the Years – Liz Crippin

The Passing of the YearsThis CD of six songs (which makes it an EP in my book) was recorded live, and mostly in one take. The tracks are simply acoustic guitar and voice, creating a spareness that gives these melodic morsels of emotional oomph the space they need to breathe. You’re going to need two or three listens before you begin to realise the true depth and impassioned resonance of Liz Crippin’s songs. They speak of longing, love and lust; regret, remorse and rumpy-pumpy.

Her finger-picking guitar style melds with beautiful phrasing and intriguing, surprising chord patterns to provide a high, airy platform for Liz’s touching Welsh-accented voice to purr through the emotional gears. Sharp, intelligent lyrics reward more than one listen, too, as clever wordplay and metaphor are gradually revealed.

The title track gets into your blood. You’ll be playing it in your head for days. The pretty Rosie’s Song, a hymn of love for a beloved guitar, simply shines with beauty – listen to that guitar line, though, for a real release of endorphins. And if the unrequited longings of ‘Invisible’ don’t pull at your heart then you’re not a human being. If I have one criticism, it is that ‘Hurricane Girl’ needs more power in the chorus, as of a storm-driven wave hitting the shore. Perhaps, though, that was a limitation imposed by the recording conditions. I can’t wait for the album version.

wombicon5I adore this CD. You will too. The Passing of the Years by Liz Crippin. Songs: Rosie’s Song, Monsters, Hurricane Girl, Invisible, You Don’t Know Me. Five happy wombats out of five.

Buy it here:

Percy Filth

indexIs this the worst sex scene ever written? It should be, since I compiled it from the books nominated for this year’s Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award, along with two also-rans. I’ve colour-coded the sentences so you can see who wrote what, and have altered pronouns and tenses so that the whole thing makes a kind of horrible sense. Get the smelling salts ready…

She locked the cubicle door and pulled at his leather belt. “You’re beautiful,” she told him, going down on to her haunches and unzipping him. He watched her passport rise gradually out of the back pocket of her jeans in time with the rhythmic bobbing of her buttocks as she sucked him. He arched over her back and took hold of the passport before it landed on the pimpled floor. Despite the immediate circumstances, human nature obliged him to take a look at her passport photo. His heart immediately started hammering like mad, and a fiery heat welled up inside him. He wanted to ask something, something tremendously urgent, something incredibly important, something that was tingling on the tip of his tongue but already her other hand was on his other buttock. Once he’d trained his sphincter to stop reflexively impersonating a Chinese finger trap, it felt pretty good. She pushed on his hips, an order that thrust him in. He entered her. Not only his prick, but the whole of him entered her, into her guts. “Anne,” he said, stopping and looking down at her. She was pinned like wet washing with his peg. “Till now, I thought the sweetest sound I could ever hear was cows chewing grass. But this is better.” He swayed and they listened to the soft suck at the exact place they met. The act itself was fervent. Like a brisk tennis game or a summer track meet, something performed in daylight between competitors. The cheap mattress bounced. They breathed heavily, breached, adjusting to air. There was a fish smell too, as if the tide had just gone out. When she was sufficiently aroused, a hush finally settled and then with a sigh she rolled over gently onto her back and lay like a doe turning in leaves.

millimg5medThe Books:

  • Men Like Air by Tom Connolly
  • The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis (yes, the former Blue Peter presenter)
  • The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler
  • A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin
  • The Day Before Happiness by Erri De Luca
  • Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

REVIEW: The Voice of Reason by Edward Ian Kendrick

The VoiceThe Game is a futuristic bloody killfest put on for the entertainment of the masses in the late 21st century. An Exhibition Match is mounted to decide the greatest fighters of all time, and the book is written from the viewpoint of the commentator known as The Voice.

Unlike some reviewers on Amazon, I found the opening slow. I had to force myself through the first few chapters before the style of writing – a combination of interviews, flashbacks and autobiographical rantings from The Voice (not a character I ever really warmed to) – began to weave its spell on me.

I’m pleased that I persevered, for the novel grows into a “beautiful kaleidoscope of blood, violence, gore and vengeance”. Not kidding, these pages are soaked with red, but the action is so well-written, so well paced that I never felt like I was reading some schlock-horror pulp. This is superbly-crafted book for adults. Take it on the bus with you and you’ll miss your stop.

4-star rating4/5 wombats for Ed Kendrick’s The Voice of Reason.

A Perfect State of Grind – Bolton’s @thecoffee_grind

APSOGIf you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know of my occasional forays along the deeply dismal A58 to Bolton, whose market is smaller but far more vibrant and less anodyne than Bury’s vast but mostly bland affair. You will also be aware of my love of the coffee served by Nigel at The Coffee Grind in Bolton Market. Why, I even wrote him into a short story, look.

A warm welcomeWell, here’s good news – Nigel and Gill have expanded with a new shop on busy Newport Street. It’s on the left as you walk up from Town Hall Square. Stepping inside The Coffee Grind from the busy thoroughfare is like walking into a welcoming cup of finest coffee after a busy day (without getting wet: you understand similes, right?). The ambience is welcoming, calm and full of taste. There’s a sense of enormous space, thanks to the mirror wall at the far end, and more seating downstairs for those who prefer a more intimate setting, like lovers or spies.

The new shop on Newport StreetWith the extra space come extra goodies, and Gill will happily sate any hunger you might have for cake and paninis. Nigel continues to rush his bottom off serving punters in the market, so now you have a choice of independent venues at which to buy coffee (or tea, or, I have to say, a quite stonking hot chocolate). Avoid the major chains and give The Coffee Grind a try. Your tastebuds will love you for it.

It’s A Goddam Beautiful Day – review

unspecifiedFor many moons I’ve been intending to review this remarkable piece of work from the prolific Hilliat Fields. Since its release it has become one of my favourite listens, especially when I’m writing.

The first track – Cant. Busy. – an electronic kaleidoscope of sound that builds from the thinnest of edges to a deep lushness – sets me in mind of Skyrim Atmospheres, and takes my mind wandering across icy mountain slopes in search of dragons, or putting my character Glint into a fateful meeting with giant wolf spiders.

Slow Down, with its louche vocals and delicate, cloud-drift changes, is a song that is wearing shades and sprawling in the San Diego sun of Coronado Beach. This is your baby if you want to surround yourself in pure golden relaxation.

I really like Donum, with its guitar chunk meander like a ravenous dog randomly meandering through the rubble of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, searching for food, and finding a freshly dead body.

The final song on this splendid album, and the title track, is a paeon to all of those times that you’ve gone to bed with a smile on your face. No, not because of that, pervs. Think of a beautiful, soul-lifting day; one that made your senses tingle with delight. Like that. Glorious.

If you haven’t guessed already, this is an album that will paint pictures in your mind. There are a few weak moments – I could have lived without Beauty (Everywhere) 16, which made the cats stare at the speakers and hum – but that apart this is a stunning collection. The music surges like oceans, drifts like desert dunes, strokes your skin like the lightest of fingers. It’s music to wrap yourself up in. Go wrap yourself.

wombicon5Five happy wombats for IAGBD, as no one but me calls it. Go and get it here.

Dad’s Army

Dad's ArmyI went to see this with a little trepidation. It had received mixed reviews, but those that criticised it did so either because it wasn’t exactly the original. Watched on its own terms this is a well-played comedy, with laughs, some excitement and not a little poignancy.

Mind you, my comedic gland (it’s just inside your elbow) might be a little odder than everyone else’s. I guffawed loudly, the only one in an otherwise silent cinema, at the following exchange:

“Just what the men need. They’ve been dragging their feet a bit lately.”
“Yes, they have been a bit lax.”
“There’s no need for Latin, Wilson.”

The cast is generally excellent, although Bill Nighy put in his usual performance as Bill Nighy, rather than Sergeant Wilson, and I found Pike’s character rather too gung-ho. The rest are superb, however, and each gets their chance to shine. In a lovely touch, the vicar is STILL played by Frank Williams, and there is a small part for Ian Lavender. We finally get to see the fearsome Elizabeth Mainwaring, who is well portrayed, with one or two touching moments when her love for her husband glints through her brusque shell.

To sum up: a very good comedy. It made me laugh. The film made enough nods to the original without slavishly copying it. Go and see it without expecting the original and you’ll have fun.


Oh, and don’t leave when the credits start to roll. Stay to catch some fun outtakes, including one where Michael Gambon’s mobile goes off during filming, and everyone stays in character.

Four wombats - good

Four smiling wombats out of five for Dad’s Army.

How to make an author smile

It feels a little like whispering into a hurricane on occasion. You write, realise that what you’ve written is crap, delete 90% and write again. You spend countless hours recording the story that’s in your head, giving it flesh, making it real. You fall in love with your characters, even the ones who betray you when you most trust them.

Then you polish, you rearrange, you edit. You wake up at 5am suddenly realising what horrible thing must – simply must – happen to your protagonist, and you tiptoe out of bed to fire up Scrivener and make it so. You polish again, and again, and when you think you can’t make it any better you dive back in and try anyway. Eventually the day arrives when you publish the remarkable thing that you have painstakingly created.

You show your baby to the world, proudly. Maybe you sell a few copies (yay) and garner a few good reviews (even yayer), but then the fuss dies down and you move on to create new protagonists to torture, haunt and romance. After a few years, you might even forget about characters once so vivid to you. Out of sight, see? But then just occasionally, you get a small reminder.

This just turned up on my Author Facebook page, an unprompted comment from a stranger. It’s given me an enormous smile on a dark, pissing-down hooley of a day. Good old Cuetip – I wonder what did happen to him, in the end?

“A little over a year ago my employer suggested I read War & Peace, but I thought he said Warren Peace so I bought this by mistake. It’s one of the best mistakes I’ve ever made. Cuetip remains a personal hero of mine to this day. Michael Wombat, thank you truly for this gem.”

Click to see Warren Peace on Amazon

Five foggy stars

“The dialogue among the interesting characters was naturally witty, laced with hints of clever sarcasm”

Fog-5star-shiny-webHow have I only now discovered that Reader’s Favourite website gave Fog a 5-star review six months ago? Presumably, the notification went straight into my ‘Crapola’ spam folder. In truth, I had forgotten submitting it to them.

As mentioned in the previous post, I am already planning a preface-cum-teaser for ‘Fog’ that will lift the beginning, which has been described as ‘a slow couple of pages’ by a couple of 5-star reviewers.

Perhaps more excitingly, I can now ruin Thom White’s exquisite cover with a sticker.

Scrivener Review

DSCF1117I blame that Michael Manz. There I was, perfectly happy with my six Word documents open at once and a desk covered with relationship diagrams, sketches, little plot cards that I could shift about, books, photocopies of research snippets I’d found, my tablet with notes & pics of interesting research material that I’d found in the library, and coffee. That is how I write, usually, perched in the middle of a big old web of paper and tech and hot beverages.

Then right in the middle of a Skype conversation PLOP! he inserted into my brain the idea that Scrivener might be worth a look. OK, Mr. so-called Michael so-called Manz, I’ve had a look now, and you know what? It’s a bit bloody good.

What it is, at heart, is an organiser. Yes, you can type in it, but far far over and way way above the fairly basic word-processor capabilities, what it gives you are the tools to organise everything (and I mean everything) you might need for your writing, in whatever order you see fit. You can write non-sequentially, and drag your various scenes around until you achieve the perfect order. You can keep all of your notes, sketches, and references handy in Scrivener, and can view them alongside the text you are writing.

The corkboard feature provides you with index cards for salient features that you can move around a virtual, yes, corkboard – no more making little index cards for the cats to knock on the floor. It will export to Word and other formats for final formatting, or directly to a .mobi file for upload to Amazon. You control which parts are included in the output file and in what order. Tags, Labels and the ability to save Searches give you great power over which parts of your document you see, and allow detailed analysis. For instance, I can look at only the scenes that mention ‘Ralf’, say, and check through his timeline for consistency.

Image1A big bonus for me is that it’s British, with British spellings (hurray!) and occasional exhortations in the tutorial for you to take a break and have a cup of tea and a biscuit. That tutorial is chatty and comprehensive, and reads like it was written by your mate. For example – “When you’re ready then—after a stretch of the legs, a glass of wine, a good curse at the prolixity of this tutorial’s author, whichever helps—let’s move on to Step 10”.

To sum up, Scrivener’s purpose is to provide a sort of writer’s studio; a place where you throw everything, all of your research, ideas and scribblings, with the aim of mashing it together into a draft which you can then either print for posting off to a publisher, or export, whether to another program for tweaking or to an e-book format for self-publishing.

You can try Scrivener free for 30 days – that’s 30 days of use, which don’t have to be consecutive; I strongly recommend that you download it, take an hour to go through the tutorial, which will immediately spark ideas of what you’re going to use it for.wombicon5

I give Scrivener FIVE HAPPY WOMBATS.

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