Category Archives: Contemporary Fiction

Book Review: ‘True Grandeur’ by Cal R. Barnes

Title: True Grandeur: A Hollywood Novel

Published: 20th September 2017

Publisher: Magic Hour Press

Author: Cal R. Barnes



TRUE GRANDEUR is the tale of Conrad Arlington, a young man who moves to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of becoming a great artist. Within a few short years of his arrival, Conrad’s success as a writer brings him to the attention of Gracie Garrison, a beautiful and alluring socialite whose glamorous lifestyle is just as mysterious as the rumors that surround her. After spending a spirited and adventurous night on the town together – one fueled by an excess of beautiful people, extravagant parties, gallery openings, and the madness of a fallen director – Conrad ultimately falls in love with her, believing them to be destined. However, when he awakens the next morning to find that Gracie is gone, he is distraught, and thus embarks on his relentless journey to find her, resulting in a tumultuous spiral of passion, art, and romance as he searches his soul to try and uncover the greatest mystery of all – true love.

At its core, True Grandeur is not just a love story, but rather an in-depth study on contemporary romanticism, of how ideals shape one’s need for individuality and importance, and of how sociological factors such as fame, wealth, and social class contribute to one’s ability to receive – or not receive – true love. It’s a story of what it means to feel deeply, and attempts to accurately illustrate the internal progression of feeling that is the artist’s journey.



Goes down as another off my 2019 Bookworm Bingo Challenge – A book by an author who uses initials in their pen name.

This story it told through POV of Conrad Arlington who moves to Hollywood to make it as an artist. Will it swallow him up and spit him out or will he make it? To say that his belief in his talent abilities is high would be an understatement. It’s this mentality that drives him. His father and the great Arlington’s before him made sure of this kind of self worth and confidence. He wants to be ‘the last true artist’ but his attitude just comes off as being a bit obnoxious.

After finding and falling for a girl right off the bat he finds that his obsession in getting lost in her drove a different kind of artistic expression from him. He began to write about what he was feeling. His carefree attitude changes his views on what he wants to do after being there for a few years. Writing works as he can control the stories when things become uncontrollable around him. It’s creating a script that leads to meeting his next obsession.

Gracie auditions for a part in Conrad’s noir screenplay. Her eyes seem to have the ability to freeze him in the spot. He is drawn to the raw emotion behind her actions and longs to know her. So it’s good that she just happens to bump into him later at a bar. Just when his dreams of getting his film up and running falls through Gracie pops up to possibly save the day. In Hollywood it’s not what you know but rather who you know that helps. But is all what it seems? Rumours told at a party might start to fill in the blanks. Or maybe just raise more questions. Which isn’t good as that’s Gracie’s main rule – don’t ask questions.

Conrad is so easily infatuated with her that she could bend him to her will to do anything. He knows she could have anybody, so is shocked that she sort of chooses him. Will the charade last? Well long enough to get him to drive her around all night to the strange amount of parties and friends she needs to see. Talk about a weird night to remember. With the amount of booze he was meant to have put away I want to know how he could see straight, let alone drive anywhere? He falls for her hook, link and sinker. So you can imagine what might happen if she vanished. Feeling lost but longing to find her he turns into a bit of a creepy stalker not wanting to believe that it was in all honestly a dream of sorts with her. Will he get his dream back or be lost to the illusion forever?

I found at times that there was just a bit too much description before getting to some actual dialogue. There was just too much time in his head waiting for him to get to the point. Also how many times does he really need to say that he is ‘The Last True Artist’? Mainly comes into play when his pride has been hurt and he needs to pull himself out of the dark.

An interesting read but I just didn’t click with the main character. He just came across as annoying and a bit of a selfish prick at the end in regards to how he treated certain people who might have been the better choice. You can see how he got swept up in the ‘Hollywood’ vibe and the allure of Gracie. He thought he loved her but she was just an illusion of sorts. So it’s a shame how he throws away something real for it when it could never be. The dialogue bits were good but there was just too much in his head for my liking.

3 out of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the author for my honest review.

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Book Review: ‘Dance Like You Mean It’ by Jeanne Skartsiaris

Title: Dance Like You Mean It

Published: 10th February 2017

Publisher: Black Opal Books

Author: Jeanne Skartsiaris




What if you wrote a steamy, erotic novel that was so hot bookstores couldn’t keep it on their shelves? What if you couldn’t tell anyone you wrote it?

At night, nurse Cassie Calabria pens a bodice-ripper novel, using an alias. She sends it to a few agents, then forgets about it. She’s more than surprised when she gets an offer for a publisher to include her book, Wild Rose, in a “summer-of-love special.” Wild Rose becomes a blazing bestseller. Suddenly she realizes she can’t let anyone know that she wrote it. What would her children think? Or her own mother, who “taught her better,” and, worse, her husband who would question her made-up fantasies of sex on the beach. How could she be thrown into the “red-light district” spotlight and still be a good mom?

Unless she went incognito.



Goes down as another off my 2019 Bookworm Bingo Challenge – A book you can finish in a day. Well this was a fun read to storm through in a day, almost like a two for one deal too.

So Cassie is middle-aged ER nurse supervisor who feels like she needs a change. To do something new and exciting comes to mind after seeing an article in a newspaper saying that everyone has a story in them but few write them down. Looks like she is about to.

The starting point is always the most fun as its where you decide who the characters are and what they do. She is building a life for her characters to do things that she may not have had the confidence or will power to do in her real life. Almost like her main heroine is her alter ego coming to life. Rosemary is a fun, strong, carefree, adventurous character who lives life by the day but still wants that connection with the right someone. Can she find it or will tragedy strike? Well I guess that all depends on how Cassie feels. She gives Rosemary a few options to choose from, will you guess correctly?

‘Wild Rose’ is the name of her book, set in the 70s where sex and being carefree was the norm. Rosemary’s a photojournalist, which just happens to be something Cassie always wanted to be. It’s interesting to have parts of ‘Wild Rose’ put within the ‘real’ story itself so you can see how Cassie grows as a writer. It’s like a story growing within another story. These parts are what Christine is proofreading for her, along with giving notes. Theirs is a great friendship, one where you can see how she will be there for her when she needs her most, and not just to do with the book.

Her writing became a form of escape to get away from her relationship with Mitch. They used to be so close when they were younger but have grown apart in the last few years. She doesn’t see it at first so is completely blindsided when he says he wants to separate, all because he’s not her sole focus. Selfish prick comes to mind. You have a family to look after and you are feeling left out because you’re not the sole focus of your wife’s life. He took her and their children for granted but can he make it right? He might not be their only problem either with trouble brewing around their daughter.

Now to begin with writing the book was just something that she wanted to do for herself with her friend Christine proof reading the result. She fears that if the book got picked up and people found out that they would look down on her for writing a sexy romance book. She solves this by writing under Cardia Loving. Fears at the ready when her book gets added to a trilogy set, one that happens to take off like a rocket with the focus turning to her. Get ready for a bit of fame and people wanting to know you’re now a writer. Shock to see the book in shops, so much pride but also worry that someone will find out she wrote it. Seems a book tour is in her future so be ready for it. An extra load of make up and hair gel might be a bit of a disguise but not for long.

Fun well rounded characters that draw you into both stories. You are drawn to Cassie and how she creates Rosemary. Evolving her character and letting her grow to the person she is truly happy with. Cassie’s life has a few twists, turns and heartache along the way. The story was therapeutic in a way and gave her the outlet she needed. When all is revealed she almost wonders why she kept it hidden for so long. Coming full circle and seeing things with fresh eyes old feelings come to the surface and renew what was once thought lost. Seems trying something new and exciting was the best decision she ever made, for her and her family. Mitch showed his true nature after fearing he would lose it all. Ashley was the classic stroppy teenager but did grow after all she went through and Gabby was the innocence childlike energy needed. Interesting humorous read that you should check out.

4 out of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the author via PR contact for my honest review.

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Book Review: ‘Two Hundred Very Short Stories’ by Helen Keeling-Marston

Title: Two Hundred Very Short Stories

Published: 15th April 2015

Publisher: JMD Media

Author: Helen Keeling-Marston

Twitter: @helenkeeling



Two Hundred Very Short Stories is a collection of stories each so short that the reader can start … and finish … a whole one in one night – some even in a minute! Recognising that many people don’t have enough time for regular reading – and thus can easily lose the thread of a novel – Helen Keeling-Marston set about writing a collection of short stories. Two Hundred Very Short Stories – Helen’s first book – features an eclectic mix of short stories and flash fiction: flash fiction being works of extreme brevity. Similar to a musical mix tape, the collection of stories aims to elicit a range of different emotions from the reader: joy, sadness, amusement, befuddlement, intrigue and fear. Be warned, however, that you’ll need to have your wits about you when reading this book, as Two Hundred Very Short Stories isn’t always a passive experience!



This is an interesting collection of short stories from the simple to the strange. Each one is a little different from the last but there are a lot to get through. I think I liked more of the stories in the first 100 than the last as they have stuck with me a bit more.

Some of the stories are like you are stepping into it halfway through. It helps as it feels like you are diving in with complete characters so are happy to be lead along with what they are doing. The others, at times, are more like spare thoughts thrown in to mix things up. A few lines or a thought isn’t really a story but more of the starting point for creating one. You could almost try to think up ways to complete it yourself, depending on the one you get to.

As you have so many stories within this book it would be hard to write something on them all but on the feel of the book as a whole instead. A few have a poetic feel to them while others give you a pause for thought. Creative thinking throughout and a bit of everything for everyone as nothing is the same. Lots of genres are mixed together so hopefully there will be something you might like. Thought provoking, insightful, quirky, humorous, to name a few. Well there are 200 of them so odds are you will find a few.

I think this book would be best read while dipping in and out of though and not in one go like I did as getting closer to the end I was just getting a bit bored with them. It’s the type of book to read while on your lunchbreak or if you have a few spare minutes throughout the day with these short snappy reads to explore.

It might not be for everyone but is an interesting collection all the same. If you make it to the end, no matter how long it takes you, I’m sure you will find a few that you will like too.

3 out of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the author for my honest review.

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Book Review: ‘Dining and Driving with Cats – Alice Unplugged’ by Pat Patterson

Title: Dining and Driving with Cats – Alice Unplugged

Published: 30th June 2017

Publisher: Ion Publishers LLC

Author: Pat Patterson



Dining and Driving With Cats – Alice Unplugged is a heartwarming and beguiling adventure of a couple who shares a love that most of us only imagine. Pat Patterson is a born storyteller and makes readers feel as if they are part of the road trip. This book is as much a story of sweet devotion as it is an exquisite example of discovering life’s hidden joys in the smallest of everyday experiences. Not since Michael Ondaatje’s hypnotic voice in The English Patient has a book spoken with such an allure for the reader. You might even spot a bit of Irish in the author and his spouse’s detailed arguments comparing a dish from one restaurant to the same of another restaurant.

They, along with the cats, dine frequently during a sometimes hilarious but always romantic auto trip across the South. As the miles flip the odometer, we are given insight into how this unusual relationship between the couple came to be, evolved, and gradually, at the end revealed in a secret you didn’t see coming. What, you say? There is a twist in a dining dialogue? Yes! And you’ll just have to read it for yourself–no spoilers here. Dialogue is so natural between the two; you’ll swear he recorded the entire trip. Alice is revealed in the first pages as a real life brainy, successful business woman enjoying life in San Miguel de Allende a small cathedral town high in the Central Mexican foothills. For over thirty years she lived in Washington D.C.. When she was fresh out of grad school and managing her firm’s D.C. office she captured the  heart of a young man who came in from the rain. He fell hard. He pursued her.  She said no –she told him she had cats. What she didn’t tell him was that she also had a secret. Over thirty years have passed since Alice revealed her secret. The young man is no longer young but he still pursues her. She calls him hubby. This is their story of a shared love for travel and history, for food and for their sweet and wily cats Munchie and Tuffy.

You might also say the book is unusual in that it totally engages the reader from the first page without a hint of violence, bloodshed, graphic sex, drugs or language. The author’s main character (besides the two cats) Alice, does say “you bastards” once. Alice is supremely self-confident and comfortable in her own skin as we learn early on when she promises the author a vehicle of his dreams if he will join her in a multi-state road trip from Mexico across the South and help wrangle two cats into restaurants, diners, cafes and hotels. He expects to find a Suburban or maybe an Escalade in the drive. Alice surprises with a Japanese sub-compact – a Honda Fit. She says it’s “flexible”. They drive – Scott La. & the Boudin War.  They dine – New Orleans at Gautreau’s, Clancy’s, and Herbsaint. They laugh – the Carousel Bar.  They cry – tragic death. If you come along on this moveable feast you will find yourself caught up in a romantic love story that involves the Other Woman and a secret that Alice cannot keep. You will dine on scrumptious creations from America’s most acclaimed chefs from Austin and New Orleans to the Procope and Odeon Relais at Buci Market in Paris. Along the way you will laugh at cats stuck in boxes, fight with a Pirate, terrify a US Vice-President, discover cat smuggling, and learn how the Other Woman persuaded Alice to accept the author’s ring. So what’s keeping you? Hop in ‘cause these cats don’t bite. Besides, “The Get In Here and Eat” pop-up food truck is waiting just up the Austin highway.



Goes down as another off my 2018 Bookworm Bingo Challenge – A book with action and adventure in it. Well for the cats anyway! Pat and Alice are on a road trip with a difference. Namely by having two extra travel companions in the form of their cats Munchie and Tuffy. Two laid back girls who can get themselves into quite a pickle at times. They are just a couple of house cats getting ready for a whirlwind adventure.

I liked the quotes at the beginning because they are so true. British author Sir Terry Pratchett “In ancient times, cats were treated as gods; they have not forgotten this.” And another from unidentified person “Dogs have owners. Cats have staff.” Love it and every cat owner will understand it too. We are their staff/servants to pander to them whenever the need arises.

So this is a journey book as well as trips down memory lane for Pat and Alice. Needing a trip of some kind as feeling a bit antsy at home in San Miguel they decide to go on a road trip. The plan is to make their way to see their new grandchild but the long route rather than a flying visit. For the plan of action they need a route, places to see and eat and a car the handle their entire load, including two people and two cats. A fun way to decide on places to stop at, mainly food related, was when they put up their plan ‘Dining and Driving with cats’ in the local paper to see if they could get some suggestions. I’d say a few hundred is a good place to start. So Alice was to look after the food and sleeping part and Pat to look after the route and driving. With plan sorted its off they go.

The antics that the cats get into while on route will have you chuckling along with them. Especially if you own cats, as you will constantly be saying, “yes mine has done that too!” Well maybe not everything, as Tuffy gets a little too happy at one point when ingesting something she shouldn’t have. Panicked for a moment there, then soon went into a fit of giggles. You’ll know the part when you get to it. The trick they have to get in and out of the car without said cats escaping was amusing. Not so sure I would have let mine roam around in the back while driving but they seemed to behave most of the time. Was funny to read about them in new hotel rooms, claiming the bed right away. Whether you had room to get in as well was not really their concern. I have heard of dog-friendly restaurants but cats, now that was something new. Would be a bit strange to suddenly hear a cat meow loudly while eating. You’d just be thinking where the hell did that come from.

Now cat treasures aside you get interesting facts about the places they saw while on the trip as well as lists and recipes of some of the food ordered. You might not want to read while hungry as might make you want to get a snack. All making this a fun, light, quirky read that will have you wondering what will happen next on this cat inspired road trip – can only go places where they are welcome. You might want to try taking your cat to a restaurant near you to see how they’d cope. As long as mine got some food he might be ok but would much prefer to chill out at home – well they do did their catnaps!

4 out of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the author for my honest review.

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Book Review: ‘Thread and Other Stories’ by Eric Halpenny

Title: Thread and Other Stories

Published: 13th July 2018

Publisher: Bookbaby

Author: Eric Halpenny


Twitter: @dragonswordbook



Thread and Other Stories is a multi-genre collection of short stories (single author) that includes science fiction, fantasy, urban fiction, literary fiction, historical fiction, and espionage. There are seven stories in the collection.

Prudence and her older brother Yannick face extreme poverty and hardship in Thread. They live day to day on the wages they earn at low paying, difficult jobs. They face hardships that seem insurmountable for two young children. Isidore, an impoverished boy trying to survive on his own, enters their lives with even greater needs than Prudence and Yannick. They integrate him into their family life even as their world begins to crumble around them. But, there is an ominous backdrop to these events as strange entities take a keen interest in the lives of the three children.

A military psychologist evaluates a Vietnam war veteran who has experienced psychological damage in Shrink. The veteran’s fellow soldiers and friends must support him as the psychologist attempts to uncover the reasons behind his trauma.

Emil, Annie, and their three children—Zona, Owen, and Abner—struggle to stay safe in a steampunk-inspired fantasy world in Chance. Abner finds himself in trouble as a powerful magical being terrorizes the family farm. Only Zona’s quick thinking along with her parents’ knowledge of magic will give them a chance against the dark sorcery of the enemy.

John and Greg, bound by friendship, embark on a journey of trial and tragedy in Conflict, a 20th Century historical fiction. They must deal with death, loss, and grief as compatriots fall in battle during this poignant snapshot of the Canadian military in World War I. John and Greg show a contrast in the ways that these soldiers adapted to the psychological effects of war.

Veera, an astrophysicist, begins to experience recurring déjà vu, the source of which she cannot determine in Oversight, a science fiction adventure. She is unknowingly set on a collision course with Misha, who challenges Veera’s perception of the world as she struggles to determine what is real and what isn’t. Misha must deal with his own psychological demons as he tries to salvage a failing mission that will either end in glory or in his own death.

Dmitry is a hardened spy in the Cold War who has no mercy for his adversary Olyesa in the espionage thriller Deception. Olyesa and Dmitry navigate their way through the murky waters of agents and double agents while simultaneously struggling against each other for survival. When their divergent plans collide, it threatens to destroy them both.

Explore a metaphysical debate in the literary short story Conversation, which is woven between each of the short stories in this collection. An unnamed protagonist and an unidentified and secretive entity discuss the metaphysical and spiritual meaning behind science and what it means to gain knowledge.



Goes down as another off my 2018 Bookworm Bingo Challenge – A collection of short stories. All are very different but each have a certain something to keep you intrigued to continue on to the next. Nice style of writing with this collection of shorts.


A story connected by conscious thoughts of others perhaps? The main one itself is a trying tale of children living in poverty and having to work just to eat. The mines are for the boys and it’s cleaning for girls. They never feel hope for they can’t see a way out of the cycle they are part of. Work, eat, sleep and repeat. With the eating part sometimes being hard to come by. Yannick protects his sister Prudence but is still a child himself. A saying being you can’t look out for others, as you don’t have enough for yourselves. That’s Yannick’s way of thinking when Isidore comes into their lives. He’s younger than both of them but needs to work to stay alive too. Hardships become them and dangers of the world around them, work included, causes tragic results. Seems conscious minds might be merging to feel something new, hope might be born into their dark lives bringing some light and a connection thread to join them.


The perils of coming back from war and having to live with the consequences of what happened when you were there. A shrink to help the army vets before they go home but sometimes they are too far-gone to come back from the darkness. They need their crew and family to try to bring them round but is that enough?


Well what starts out as an everyday farmers family working life turns into something completely unexpected. Interesting twist with its’ direction and how the story evolves from there. Young minds are inquisitive ones so you should be careful to teach them to understand what’s at stake and not leave books around they might not understand. Creating a doll is one thing but this one had a mind of its own.


Tales told of the Great War focusing on the Canadians fighting, all showing how and why different people would have signed up. What were they fighting for? Was it King, country, honour, family, friends or perhaps just a mixture of them all? Showing the day-to-day life of the battlefield slowly pulling them under. Two different men’s views on how they see the battle to be won. Who are the lucky ones? Those who go home physically injured, mentally injured, don’t go home at all or the ones who never got called in the first place? The letters or quotes from people who were really there mixing with the story were interesting. Gives you a little insight to what they really experienced.


Two scientists following through with an 18-month task sending and tracking satellites – a link to the Mars project but also a new Jupiter one. Their project is failing and they know they need to go back through notes to find where they went wrong. This is where things get a little strange, as it seems they aren’t the only ones testing something, or should that be someone? Are you the tester or subject and can you tell the difference between the two? Quirky read that will have you questioning what could be out there and who or what everyone really is. Who is controlling whom? Maybe not knowing is the point.


Spy masters at extracting information out of people. The top of a very select few that needs to stay hidden. Dmitry is one of them and believes he is the one always in control. He gets his pleasure out of tormenting others whether for work or fun. There seems to be no difference for him. He might think he is the one controlling the game but is he the one being played in a complex game of spy vs. spy. Cards are about to fall in a different way and he might not like where they land.


A need to have someone to talk to, but are they really there or just in your head? They say they will wait until you are ready to talk. Let’s hope it’s true. For someone to help do you need to be face to face or can they help you from afar? This story is broken up and interlinked between all the others. It gives the impression of time passing between the one who wants to talk but isn’t really ready to as they keep putting up barriers (I must meet you and you’re wrong) and the one who is willing to wait for however long until they are. A philosophical conversation with someone or something – do you really need to see them to talk?

4 out of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the author for my honest review.

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Filed under Contemporary Fiction, Fantasy, Reading Challenges, Reading Nook Blog Posts, Science Fiction