Monday 1 December 2014

Good reads (a small & independent press round-up)

I've been publishing in the small press since 1999 and I'm happy to say that it's still as vibrant, exciting and fun as it's ever been.  Most of the presses don't have big budgets (perhaps they could best be described as labours of love) for marketing and such, so it sometimes falls to the readers to shout out about discoveries they've made and I'm more than happy to do that.

So, in no particular order, here are some gems published so far this year that I've really enjoyed from the small/independent press (and yes, whilst they're written or published by friends, you know me well enough by now to appreciate that wouldn't colour my review).

The End, by Gary McMahon
published by NewCon Press

This is an astonishing book, short and lean, that doesn’t pull any punches as it follows our heroes up country - it’s brutal, gory, poignant, unpleasant, bleak, uncomfortable, hopeful and above all else, never less than believable.  I read this in draft, to deliver a critique and it’s the first time I’ve ever done that and had to struggle to find anything seriously wrong with the ms.
(my full review at Goodreads)

The Weight Of The Ocean, by Paul M. Feeney
published by Phrenic Press

When it comes, when everything starts to fall, Feeney pulls back from any histrionics and his approach - low-key and subtle - makes the ending all the more powerful and poignant. A melancholic romance (my favourite kind), this is a great addition to the genre of unease, an impressive debut that marks Feeney as being a writer to watch in the future and I highly recommend it.
(my full review at Goodreads)

Cold Turkey, by Carole Johnstone
published by TTA Press

Johnstone doesn’t shy away from the dark side of things though, with some unpleasant sequences and an occasion of brutally shocking violence, as reality and fantasy intertwine until Raym (and the reader) are never quite sure what is actually happening and what’s imagination. As an ex-smoker (and someone who loved King’s “Quitters, Inc”), Raym’s reactions and thought processes really rang a bell with me and I would suggest that this is written by someone who fully understands the pain of quitting smoking, even when you want to. Top Hat is a superb creation, a ghoul who looks as if he’s stepped complete from a nightmare and it’s a testament to Carole Johnstone’s skill that she can make excellent use of something fundamental to your childhood - the ice cream van and the nursery rhyme Hickory Dickory Dock - and corrupt them both completely, making each one frightening and unpleasant. Superbly written, with a great feel for character, dialogue and location, this is a great read and I highly recommend it.
(my full review at Goodreads)

The Derelict, by Neil Williams
published by Pendragon Press

I’m not generally a big fan of historical fiction but this works very well indeed - the characters are well rounded and react as you imagine they should, the boats are clearly described (as is the eternal loneliness of the ocean), suspense is expertly ratcheted up and it moves along at a brisk pace. The “something” is a superb creation, frightening and vile and eliciting no sympathy at all, as it works its way through the Albin Grau crew. Well written, wonderfully scary and highly recommended.
(my full review at Goodreads)

Beside Me, by Carolyn Henderson
published by Forelock Books

There are supernatural elements (though it’s not a supernatural story at all) and the set pieces are well set up (especially in the abandoned stables) but this isn’t really about that, it’s about being a teenager, finding yourself and the realisation that loss is an everyday part of life (there’s a wonderful sequence in a pet cemetery, with Corinne and Celia, that is beautifully melancholic). It probably helps if you like horses (Carolyn has written several non-fiction books about them and it shows, the sequences in the riding school are expertly put together), but if you’re looking for a well written YA mystery-drama, this could be just right. Highly recommended.
(my full review at Goodreads)

The Wedding Proposal, by Sue Moorcroft
published by Choc-Lit
(which isn't a small press at all - though it is independent - but I wanted to let people know about this great novel)

The central romance is well played and raunchy, with both characters never less than believable, even as the secrets begin to unfurl themselves and family connections become strained. Elle is independent and spirited and Lucas, a hero in the Moorcroft mould, grows in stature as the book progresses and his backstory comes out in snippets. Well written and paced, making great use of fresh locations, this is a fantastic read and one I would highly recommend.
(my full review at Goodreads)

Go on, give them a go, there's something for everyone!


  1. I've read the first three, and if the others are as good as those I think I'll have to give them a whorl