Top Banana by Kath Middleton

I finished reading Top Banana a few days ago and I'm still laughing. The book has a serious side but it's carried along by some very funny scenes.

I know that Kath Middleton is an accomplished writer of shorter pieces having enjoyed both her novellas: Ravenfold and Message in a Bottle. However, Top Banana, Kath Middleton's first novel, demonstrates that she can extend her range and sustain it into a much larger work.

Steven Oliver Stanley (note the initials) is a twenty five years old young man who seems to be locked into a teenage Saturday job and life style. He's basically a decent type and when he stumbles over wrong-doing his first instinct, which he follows up straightaway, is to go to the police. The consequence of his right action is a series of events that are transformational and by the end of the book Steven has come-of-age and embarked upon a happy-ever-after life journey.

Top Banana really is a feel-good book. There are several instances of the triumph of right over wrong; there are the laugh-aloud funny events that are interspersed throughout the story from beginning to end; and there is a wonderful Mr Pollyish theme that emerges as the story unfolds where Steven takes responsibility for his life and takes actions to change it.

Steven himself is a wonderful character. He is so endearing despite his daft ideas and extraordinary fascination for fruit and veg. His mother is a nightmare of pursed lips, rolled eyes and acidic comments; Steven's long suffering dad is a quiet, formidable force who holds the little family together. Steven's first boss is an Ealing comedy villain while the second is a paradigm of human resources best practice. And when Steven eventually meets the love of his life, she turns out to be the sweetest, kindest, most grounded character that either he or the reader could wish for.

Beneath the comedy, Top Banana is a novel about relationships and these are explored wisely and with sensitivity. The book is ultimately positive and uplifting; it leaves behind a strong sense of the power of humankind to change for the better and this lasts even longer than the laughter.

I look forward to reading whatever Kath Middleton writes next and highly recommend Top Banana. You can find details of Top Banana and all her other books on Kath Middleton's Author Page at Amazon.co.uk or at Amazon.com.

Search for the Golden Serpent (Servant of the Gods Book 1) by Luciana Cavallaro

I've already read Accursed Women by Luciana Cavallaro and found all the stories in the collection to be very well written, entertaining, informative and highly original. You can read my full review of Accursed Women here if you missed it.

Recently the author agreed to answer some questions for Indie Bookworm in an Interview with Luciana Cavallaro. When I read that she was going to publish a series of novels titled Servant of the Gods I knew I would want to read them.


Search for the Golden Serpent is the first book in the series and you can imagine how delighted I was when Luciana Cavallaro invited me to be an early reader and sent me a copy of the book to download.

[Full disclosure: The author provided me with a copy of Search for the Golden Serpent in exchange for an honest review.]

Search for the Golden Serpent is an historical, mythological, fantasy quest on an epic scale.

Evan Chronis is a present day architect with a fascination for ancient buildings, civilisations and cultures. When his life unexpectedly involves him with the ancient Greek gods the reader is taken with Evan (or Evandros as he is known in ancient times) on a quest to rescue crucial artefacts that are needed by the gods to save their mythological civilisation.

The plot is completely plausible. Fantasy and reality meld seamlessly with mythology until the reader is immersed in a world of times long past urging Evandros to step up, take command and do what is necessary to save the day.

I was confident that Search for the Golden Serpent would be well written. Luciana Cavallaro has already demonstrated in Accursed Women her ability to tell a tale, sustain the reader's engagement from start to finish and keep the pages turning. However I did wonder how she would get on with a full length novel after writing shorts. The answer is she gets on really well and she's brought all her talent as a writer of short stories into this her first full length novel. The complex plotting, the fully developed characterisation and the beautiful descriptions of places, people and cultures are a delight to read.

Evan / Evandros is an intriguing main character who provides a commentary on the narrative as the story unfolds which helps the reader to know him better but also contributes to the evolving acceptance of this fantastical tale. There is also a Greek chorus of commentary from the lesser gods as the relationship between Evan / Evandros and top god Zeus plays out.

The cast of supporting characters are drawn from the present day, from ancient history and from mythology. Right from the start the reader is drawn to the characters and wants to know them better. The author has the ability to make the reader care what happens to the characters and the epic scale of this novel means that there's plenty of scope for the development of relationships and for those relationships to be put to the test.

Search for the Golden Serpent is a thoroughly enjoyable fantasy quest novel which really works but the novel is made extra special by the wonderful background detail that the author has woven throughout the story. As the reader accompanies Evan / Evandros and the other characters from one ancient place to another their world comes alive. Luciana Cavallaro's passion for Ancient History and Mythology permeates every page of this book and she paints verbal pictures of the changing scenes that are vivid and detailed.

If you've already read and enjoyed any of the stories in Accursed Women you're sure to love this new book from Luciana Cavallaro. I really enjoyed reading Search for the Golden Serpent and recommend it highly. It will be published on March 27th 2015 and is available to pre-order now. There are details at



and at the author's website http://luccav.com/books/the-legacy-book-one


Guest Review of Kath Middleton's Message in a Bottle

Last year I enjoyed reading Message in a Bottle by Kath Middleton. A couple of weeks ago my husband, Michael Murray, finished reading the book and he's written this review which I'm pleased to add to my blog to-day.

A Mozartian chamber piece for a quartet. A young woman is tragically widowed. Her despair is compounded when she discovers that her relationship with her husband and his best friend was more equivocal and complicated than she believed. In her despair she makes a desperate and apparently futile gesture that has extraordinary consequences. Her life begins to turn away from the negative but the shattering disillusionments of the past make her more sceptical of others' motives. However, her developing recovery is sustained by the kindness and generosity she derives from her new relationships and her experience turns truly positive when she realises that life repeats itself but never in exactly the same manner.

Kath Middleton's novella is a deceptively simple piece. It is subtle and nuanced and its unfashionable emphasis on love, redemption and the renewal of faith where there was only despair resonates long afterwards. Like all fine books it expresses complex ideas simply. It is sparely and economically written and is very, very readable. The marine and geological symbols of permanency through change reflect the theme perfectly. It restores one's belief in the power of goodness and love to prevail when the world daily nullifies such values. Its mixture of the cerebral and the metaphysical reminded me of Iris Murdoch. The final  paragraph is brilliant. Expressed with beautiful simplicity it provides an excellent maxim for survival in a world of flux and constant change. Highly recommended.

You can find details of all Kath Middleton's writing on her Author Page at Amazon including her recently published novel Top Banana which I've just started reading and am really enjoying.

An Explosive Time (Celtic Cousins' Adventures Book 3) by Julia Hughes

Author Julia Hughes has created three memorable characters for the Celtic Cousins' Adventures trilogy. 

Each book features the two cousins of the title, Wren and Rhyllann and their adversary and mentor DI Crombie although Crombie only plays a small part in the second book. 

However Crombie is back centre stage in An Explosive Time when, to quote from the book description,
"a circus elephant goes missing on Detective Inspector Crombie's watch, he immediately thinks of Celtic Cousins Wren and Rhyllann, who have to his mind made a career out of being the collective bane of his existence. And his instincts are correct: the cousins HAVE been up to something--but when Crombie finds out what it is and why, he runs into resistance not only from his immediate superiors, but also from the corridors of power in Whitehall itself."

Right from the start DI Crombie has problems to sort out and his character is developed much more in An Explosive Time. He has a more mature relationship with the Celtic Cousins and the snappy, witty dialogue that passes between them is at times laugh aloud funny.

The supporting cast of police officers and villains, including those in very high places, are really engaging and the author has made them real and convincing even though some of the plot elements stretch credulity: yes the elephant and the alligator on the book cover really are in the story.

The plot is fast paced and once it got going I found this was a book I couldn't put down. In the end I gave in and just sat down and had a good read. The plot hurtles from one side of London to another and the descriptions of some of the places visited are vivid and real.

I enjoyed both A Raucous Time and A Ripple in Time but I thought An Explosive Time was the best book of the trilogy. Everything comes together so well in this book: great plotting, lively and entertaining characters and a quirky, slightly sardonic writing style makes this a thoroughly enjoyable read.

You can find details of all Julia Hughes' books on her Amazon Author Page and read her Blog at http://www.juliahughes.co.uk/
A few months ago Julia Hughes very kindly agreed to answer some questions about her writing and you can read An Interview with Author Julia Hughes here.

The Man Who Kept On Living (A Post-Apocalyptic Trilogy) by G.P. Grewal

The Man Who Kept On Living by G.P. Grewal is a compilation of three post-apocalyptic novels published separately as 600 Miles, North and Barstow.

I've read all three books and thought each one was excellent but if they're new to you, save some money and buy the set.

Elgin is the narrator in 600 Miles and he is on a journey from Arizona to California hoping to take in the city of Los Angeles in the process and his main problem is that he is walking there because the story is set several decades into the future in a world of complete chaos. The cause of the apocalypse is hinted at and appears to have been all out war between the state and the people but this all happened years ago; Elgin only knows a hand to mouth existence in a world which has sunk to basest depravity and his frequent dispassionate observations of “skellies” tells you how bad things are.

The story is Elgin’s life over the several months of his journey; the places he passes through; the people he meets. It is a love story in the most unlikely of circumstances and an exploration of Elgin’s personality as he tries to cope with the tribulations and challenges of survival. The story is full of unexpected developments and at times is tense, exciting and shocking.  There are several really interesting characters in addition to Elgin particularly Gitty and Roy who make up Elgin’s eternal triangle and are his companions for much of his journey. The ending of the book is deliberately vague and lends itself to the sequel, North.

At the start of North, Elgin is alone and desperately trying to survive in a bleak and devastated landscape. When he meets Annie their loneliness becomes assuaged in a beautiful but tragic love story set amidst the struggle for survival.

Elgin's character is developed much more in this book and his often simplistic views of the world reveal some profound understandings of human nature. He has become blasé about being the one to shoot first and ask questions later if he thinks his survival is threatened. He wants a relationship and attempts to normalise things with Annie despite their daily struggle to find food, water and shelter.

The book hints at some of the causes of the much earlier devastation and Elgin's interpretation of the past might chime a little with the reader's thoughts about the present. The post-apocalyptic world explored in North is a dreadful place: in the struggle for survival most of the remaining humans have developed a deep suspicion and hatred for each other and the rare kindness of strangers is barely to be trusted.

North is a very readable novel and the voice of Elgin, the narrator, comes through strongly in an old-West, hill-billy style. This voice is consistently sustained throughout the novel and adds greatly to the originality and quality of the book. As he shares his thoughts and feelings Elgin, the man destined to walk alone, becomes more and more likeable but increasingly tragic. When Elgin talks about his feelings for Annie, the writing is honest and quirkily humorous as he reveals his old-fashioned views about gender roles. Elgin's relationship with God is a particularly interesting aspect of the novel; as is his perception of history and the educated man.

The descriptive writing is vivid and real. The smells - stinks - are overwhelming; the taste and texture of some of the animals cooked and eaten are nauseating; the oppressive darkness of an unilluminated night is scaring. North is a book of tension, drama, emotion and tragedy.

The final book in the trilogy is Barstow: A Post-Apocalyptic Western. It's a story about survival; it's a story about love and friendship; and it's a story about law and order. And a whole lot more as well.

The writing is crystal clear, direct and economical: wry observations give you just enough detail and leave your imagination to do the rest. The main characters are well drawn and although their flaws are exposed you feel strongly sympathetic to them and their predicaments. There's a strong Western voice which feels really authentic and some interesting rhythms in the sentence structure.

There are fleeting glimpses of cinema Westerns and hints of traditional cowboy films. And The Justifiers, while placed in their immediate environment, exhibit the characteristics of fascist groups over the ages. The post-apocalyptic is the context and the setting is of devastation, squalor and destruction not to mention privations culminating in cannibalism all described in vivid, graphic terms.

I read these books between September 2013 and January 2014 and they remain three of the best books I've read in several years. Highly recommended.

Details of all G.P. Grewal's books are on his Amazon Author Page USA and Amazon Author Page UK

February Bookshelf