Cloud Cover, by Jeffrey Sotto: A Review.

Cloud Cover balances the specific with the universal with ease and elegance, a tribute to the author Jeffrey Sotto’s skill. The protagonist of the book is a 30-something, gay, Filipino man living in Toronto, which could have made some readers feel the story is beyond their experience. The character of Tony is drawn with precision: he is not an everyman. He is himself, flawed and damaged, from external and internal causes, and relatable to anyone who has dealt with personal loss or rejection.

This isn’t to say Cloud Cover is an easy read. Tony’s bulimia is described in some detail, and he is likely to exasperate the reader as much as he does his friends. On the other hand, parts of Cloud Cover are laugh-out-loud funny, a nice balancing act from the author.

I found myself really caring what happened to Tony, both in his new, hopeful relationship and in his work towards healing. Sotto moves Tony past his ‘identity’ to find commonalities of the human experience: the devastation of grief; the joy of true acceptance; the pressure to conform. Nor is Tony’s life always bleak: he finds contentment, sometimes happiness, in parts of his life; a compromise, but one that will be well understood by many readers.

Sotto develops the story with compassion tempered by a clear look at the realities of a mental health disorder. Ultimately Cloud Cover is a hopeful book, but in a realistic way. There is no easy fix, no person but Tony who can turn his life onto a track less damaging, and not without significant, difficult work. But he can, by the end, see at least a hint of the sun behind the clouds, and the reader is left believing in a better future for Tony. Strongly recommended for readers of contemporary novels with believable, realistic protagonists.

Reviewed for Coffee and Thorn Tours.


Author Jeffrey Sotto

Jeffrey Sotto graduated from The University of Toronto, majoring in Film Studies and English Literature. He was the screenwriter and script consultant of the Canadian short films The Tragedy of Henry J. Bellini (2010) and Sara and Jim (2009), respectively.
Cloud Cover, his first novel, published in 2019, won a Best Indie Book Award (BIBA) for LGBTQ Fiction, an Independent Publisher Bronze Medal Book Award (IPPY), and a Literary Titan Book Award. It also briefly topped the Amazon bestseller list in LGBTQ fiction upon release. He published his second novel, The Moonballers: A Novel about The Invasion of a LGBTQ2+ Tennis League … by Straight People (GAY GASP!) in Spring 2022.


Jeffrey is also an advocate for mental health and eating disorder awareness and recovery, having shared his story on CBC Radio, Global News, and Sheena’s Place. He is currently a peer mentor at Eating Disorders Nova Scotia (EDNS). He will be contributing to the anthology Queering Nutrition and Dietetics: LGBTQ+ Reflections on Food Through Art, to be released in December 2022. Finally, in 2023, he will be appearing in the docuseries Wicked Bodies by Truefaux Films, which focuses on fostering positive culturally competent engagement in treatment and support centres, universities, and non-profit programs working with LGBTQ+ groups with disordered eating and body dysmorphia.


He is a self-proclaimed “cubicle dreamer,” tennis addict, and compulsive social media duckfacer.

Ghostways: Two Journeys in Unquiet Places

Robert MacFarlane is among my top five favourite writers, fiction or non-fiction. The two pieces collected in Ghostways are very different: Ness, not-quite-a-play, not-quite-poetry, but to my mind meant to be read aloud, explores the depths and layers and secrets of Orford Ness, a shingle spit in Suffolk-a place I know as a birding site and nature reserve, but one that has another history. It is both haunting and disturbing, in the way T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets are. Its imagery will stay with me a long time.

Holloway, a prose exploration of a deep-worn, sometimes hidden path of Dorset is both a personal journey, a memoriam for fellow author Roger Deakin, and a wider discourse on landscape and meaning. ”Stretches of a path might carry memories of a person just as a person might of a path.” MacFarlane writes, and “paths run through people as surely as they run through places….” As a writer exploring the meaning of memory and place as filtered through grief in my current book, and as a person with a deep interest in how landscapes shape both individual and collective consciousness, MacFarlane (and his co-authors) as always, challenges and inspires me.

Storytellers: New Cover!

Like interior decoration and wardrobes, book covers can need updating. Bjørn Larssen has a new cover for his haunting novel Storytellers, and I’m pleased to show it to you today.

If you don’t tell your story, they will.

Iceland, 1920. Gunnar, a hermit blacksmith, dwells with his animals, darkness, and moonshine. The last thing he wants is an injured lodger, but his money may change Gunnar’s life. So might the stranger’s story – by ending it. That is, unless an unwanted marriage, God’s messengers’ sudden interest, an obnoxious elf, or his doctor’s guilt derail the narrative. Or will the demons from Gunnar’s past cut all the stories short?

Side effects of too much truth include death, but one man’s true story is another’s game of lies. With so many eager to write his final chapter, can Gunnar find his own happy ending?


My 2019 Review:

Set against Iceland’s harsh but beautiful landscape in the late 19th and  early 20th century, Bjørn Larssen’s debut novel Storytellers explores the multi-generational effect of the evasions, embellishments and outright lies told in a small village. The book begins slowly, almost lyrically, pulling the reader into what seems like situation borrowed from folktale: a reclusive blacksmith, Gunnar, rescues an injured stranger, Sigurd. In exchange for his care, Sigurd offers Gunnar a lot of money, and a story.

But as Sigurd’s story progresses, and the book moves between the past and the present, darker elements begin to appear. Gunnar’s reclusiveness hides his own secrets, and the unresolved stories of his past. As other characters are introduced and their lives interweave, it becomes clear that at the heart of this small village there are things untold, things left out of the stories, purposely re-imagined. Both individual and collective histories – and memories – cannot be trusted.

The book was reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, in both theme and mood. Both books deal with the unreliability of memory; both are largely melancholy books. And perhaps there is allegory in them both, too. Storytellers is a book to be read when there is time for contemplation, maybe of an evening with a glass of wine. It isn’t always the easiest read, but it’s not a book I’m going to forget easily, either.


Bjørn Larssen is an award-winning author of historical fiction and fantasy, dark and funny in varying proportions. His writing has been described as ‘dark,’ ‘literary,’ ‘cinematic,’ ‘hilarious,’ and ‘there were points where I was almost having to read through a small gap between my fingers.’

Bjørn has a Master of Science degree in mathematics, and has previously worked as a graphic designer, a model, a bartender, and a blacksmith (not all at the same time). He currently lives with his husband in Almere, which is unfortunately located in The Netherlands, rather than Iceland.

He has only met an elf once. So far.


Purchase links on Bjørn’s website.

The Silver Crystal, by Ryan Lanz


The Silver Crystal
is the first of The Red Kingdom trilogy, introducing the three major characters of the series: Rhael, a bounty hunter; Phessipi, the leader of a hated and persecuted minority, and Levas, a high-ranking officer of The Order. In a medieval world, the ‘Corrupted’ – men and women with abilities that go beyond those common to all people—are hunted down and mutilated in a way that destroys their extra powers. Hunting ‘Corrupted’ for The Order is Rhael’s job, when we meet him at the beginning of the story.

The Silver Crystal is more character-focused than action-focused, although it has its share of action too. In this first book, the usual hero’s journey of fantasy is given a twist, and the other main characters grapple with the decisions and consequences of leadership and rebellion – costs both personal and professional. Heavy on dialogue, including some passages of banter that are meant to lighten the mood but to this reader stood out as devices designed to do exactly that, not integral to the story – the story still moves along at a good pace, the point of view alternating between Rhael and Phessipi, until fairly far into the book, when Levas is introduced.

This late introduction of the third main character felt a little off-balance, but as this is the first book of a trilogy, in the context of the full story it makes sense. The world-building is sketched lightly but sufficiently, and characters fit their roles. Rhael’s sidekick, Gobo, might provide light relief for some readers, but I found him annoying, like an Ewok in Star Wars. (But then, other people love Ewoks.) Overall, an intriguing fantasy suitable in my judgement for readers twelve and above, with themes of discovery, acceptance, and understanding of differences running through the story.

Dead Winner, by Kevin G. Chapman

Rory McEntyre is a New York estate lawyer in a reputable firm: competent, hard-working, and single. One afternoon, his new clients turn out to be his old university friends Tom and Monica Williams, with an unusual request. They’ve won a share of one of New York’s mega-lotteries, and need his help to set up a trust to smokescreen their good fortune. Rory, who still pines for Monica but thinks that the better man won her heart and hand, obliges. But then Tom dies, apparently by his own hand, and the grieving and confused widow needs Rory’s help and support in every step of negotiating the labyrinth of complex investigations and revelations resulting from Tom’s suicide.


Dead Winner is a pacy, twisty comedy-thriller. At least, I hope it was supposed to be a comedy-thriller. That’s how I read it, and that’s how I’m reviewing it. Without spoilers, let me say I read it that way because the plot was obvious to me from the first chapters, and my enjoyment was in watching Rory getting deeper and deeper into something that wasn’t going to end well for him.


Side characters added to my chuckles. The executive assistant who was an Olympic judo contestant uses those skills in a scene reminiscent of Emma Peel in her leathers. The head of security who has ‘muscle envy’ on seeing the build of the (of course) probably-Russian hitman. Each character fit their role – harried and overworked detectives, ex-cop security, cold and efficient head of the investment firm for which Tom had worked – perfectly, instantly recognizable, taking their places in the unfolding events like the stock characters of a Christmas pantomime. As in a pantomime, there were many places when I wanted to figuratively shout ‘look behind you!’ at Rory – but then again, that would have spoiled the fun.


Recommended, but not – at least for me – to be taken seriously.


Reviewed for Coffee and Thorn Book Tours.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin Chapman is an attorney specializing in labor and employment law.  His passion (aside from playing tournament poker and rooting for his beloved New York Mets) is writing fiction. He recently completed the first five books in his multi-award winning Mike Stoneman Thriller series.

Kevin writes: “The process of writing crime thrillers involves hours of thinking about and talking about how to kill people. And how to get away with it. It also involves figuring out how my protagonist detectives might solve the case. But mostly it’s about planning out ingenious ways to murder people. My wife is a willing participant in this process (so she must trust me). My current book is more of a mystery, and a little bit of a tragic romance. But all the stories are about the characters. If you don’t care about them, then I’m not doing my job.”

TO CONTACT THE AUTHOR

Kevin G Chapman welcomes communication from his readers – including comments, ideas, disagreements and critiques. He can be contacted via any of the links below:

Author website: https://kevingchapman.com/

The Mike Stoneman Thriller Group on Facebook

Email him at kevin[at]kevingchapman[dot]com

He is also on Twitter (@KGChapman)

The Welsh Dragon, by K.M.Butler

A Review

Henry Tudor—the victor of Bosworth who defeated Richard III to claim the crown and become Henry VII of England, beginning the Tudor dynasty – had a weak claim to the throne. Descended on his mother’s side from the royal prince John of Gaunt and his mistress Katherine Swynford, Henry was barred from the line of succession by this illegitimacy. But Henry’s father Edmund Tudor was half-brother to the king, through his mother’s second marriage to Owen Tudor, and this too brought a potential claim.

When Edward IV took the throne from Henry VI in 1461, amidst the complex politics and battles of The Wars of the Roses, Henry Tudor and his uncle Jasper fled to Brittany. It is the fourteen years that Henry spent in exile that is the focus of nearly the first half of The Welsh Dragon – a period of which little historical fact is known. Author K.M Butler therefore had a fairly free hand to imagine this time in Henry’s life.

Butler shows us a young man attempting to live a life free of the politics of court and crown, in love with a commoner, the competent merchant Jehane, and learning to be useful and skilled in trade. A small life, perhaps, but a free one. But his mother’s (and others’) letters from England, the emissaries who come, and his own sense of duty can’t let him forget who he is. Nor can his enemies: Henry’s life is frequently in danger.

History takes its course, and Henry accepts his role. Butler handles the complexities of factions, allegiances and intrigue well (a small caveat here: I am familiar with this period and the historical people portrayed here – for someone new to it, it might still be a touch confusing) and does not, thankfully, underrepresent the role of the powerful and politically astute women on both sides.

One of the enduring mysteries of this time is the fate of the Princes in the Tower, Edward IV’s last two legitimate sons, imprisoned by Richard in the Tower of London. While generally considered to have been murdered by Richard’s orders, there are other theories. The one proposed by Butler was new to me – but plausible.

Henry may have been reluctant, but his acceptance of the expectations of his birth and upbringing rings true; Butler portrays him as a sympathetic character who grows into maturity and what he sees as his duty, accepting his role in the larger tapestry of politics and history, rather than his personal desires. The book ends with the victory at Bosworth: it is the making of a king, rather than his reign, that is brought to vivid life in The Welsh Dragon.

September’s Books

OK, it’s a little late…but here’s a roundup of books I read/listened to in September, along with some I’ll be starting soon, with some brief thoughts on each.

The Lion of Skye, by J.T.T. Ryder.  The sequel to his debut Hag of the Hills, set in iron-age Skye in a world where myth and legend walk with humans, for those with eyes to see. Fast paced, sometimes bloody, and definitely not a 21st C worldview. Full review here.


Gallows Wake, by Helen Hollick. The sixth book in the Captain Jesamiah Acorne series: piracy with a touch of the paranormal. Expert writing, engaging characters, a solid plot, and no need to have read the first five. Full review here.


Something to Hide: A Lynley Novel by Elizabeth George. The 21st Lynley novel; competent, twisty, the plot focused on FGM among Nigerian and Somali communities in London. Readable, but overall it felt tired, as if the author is putting her characters through their paces reluctantly.


The Wind in His Heart by Charles de Lint. I’ve been a huge de Lint fan for many many years; this one, set well away from his usual fictional city of Newford, had some interesting elements, but overall was too similar in theme and some aspects of plot with others he’s written, even if the mythology was primarily Native American and not Celtic. Enjoyable, but not his best.


A Prayer for the Crown-Shy: Monk & Robot Book II, by Becky Chambers (audiobook). Along with the first book in the series, A Psalm for the Wild-Built, hands down the most delightful, hopeful, and subtly thought-provoking novellas I’ve read in a very long time. Highly recommended for those tired of dystopias (and perhaps real life).


Begun but not yet finished (NOT DNFs)

The Welsh Dragon, by K.M Butler. A historical novel about Henry Tudor, focusing on the years before he defeated the Lancastrian forces at Bosworth, ending the Cousins’ War (The Wars of the Roses) and taking the throne as Henry VII. So far, I’m thoroughly enjoying it; review to come.


Fairy Tale, by Stephen King. (audiobook).  I have a long way to go in this…like most of King’s books, it’s not short. Reserving my opinion for now, because this is a book with two distinct parts, and I’ve only just begun the second story. 


Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World, a collection of essays by the late Barry Lopez. Like authors Annie Dillard and Robert MacFarlane, Lopez’s nature writing goes far beyond a set of empirical observations. I’m only not finished because I’m pacing myself, giving myself time to think about what he’s saying about human societies, the importance of place and belonging, and our relationship with the rest of the planet.

Although there are one or two statements among all the gems that don’t ring true, overall, a thought-provoking and sometimes lyrical book.


In the Queue:

Singing for Our Supper: Walking an English Songline from Kent to Cornwall, by W.R. Parsons. I’ve been following Will Parsons on his modern pilgrimages around the UK for some years, via Facebook, Twitter and his website. Walking in Britain has been both a place of peace and a source – the source, probably – for my novels, and my own walk across England, from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, a highlight of my life.  I, however, can’t sing a note. I am very much looking forward to this book.


The Last of the Atalanteans (The Drowned Kingdom Saga, Book II) by P.L. Stuart. The second book in Stuart’s magnificently imagined world, with that hardest of protagonists to do well (and Stuart does) – an unlikeable one. Will Othrun’s hubris and ambition lead him to glory or to the ashes of his dreams? I’ll find out soon.

Gallows Wake, by Helen Hollick

Gallows Wake is the first of Helen Hollick’s Captain Jesamiah Acorne books I’ve read, but it won’t be the last. Nor was it necessary to have read the previous books to thoroughly enjoy this one; Hollick expertly weaves enough backstory into the narrative to explain what’s happening without taking away from the focus and momentum of the story.

Forced to put into a shipyard in Gibraltar for necessary repairs to his ship, Acorne finds himself in danger from several sides. Both his distant and immediate past are catching up to him—and his wife Tiola, pregnant with their first child. With a brood of children saved from capture to take care of, both Jesamiah and Tiola have their hands full. But Tiola has her own past to reckon with, and she too is in danger, especially after her return to England without Jesamiah.

Hollick’s writing is crisp and clear, and her ear for dialogue and ability to reveal character in a few brief sentences is enviable. While several of the characters in Gallows Wake have returned from previous books, again, I felt no need to have read those books to understand them. The paranormal side of the story—Tiola is a white witch, with powers of precognition and more, and one of the characters is not quite human—blends with the story beautifully, handled so matter-of-factly. This is simply Jesamiah’s reality, and he accepts it, as does the reader.

I’m not a student of sailing ships, but the scenes on board ship felt authentic. The author’s nod to a classic story of the West Country amused me, but also helped set the mood and landscape. I look forward to reading the rest of the series, and I hope there are more to come!

Pre-order Gallows Wake on Amazon.

The Lion of Skye, by J.T.T. Ryder

’Celtic’ is a magic bag, into which anything may be put, and out of which almost anything may come … Anything is possible in the fabulous Celtic twilight, which is not so much a twilight of the gods as of the reason.

This J.R.R. Tolkien quote would be an apt epigram for The Lion of Skye. Not in a derogatory way, but an introductory one, a warning to the reader not to expect the world of Skye in 200BC to behave in a way consistent with the modern world of reason and causality.

The Lion of Skye picks up immediately after the end of Hag of the Hills, and it picks up running and doesn’t stop for a breath for many chapters. Brennus, now renamed Vidav after the sword he found (or was given) continues in his sworn purpose to rid Skye of the Hillmen and their queen, Slighan. Over the course of the story he will make and break alliances, battle human and the sidhe, but his oath to protect the maiden Myrnna is still a driving force.

In my review of the first of this duology, Hag of the Hills, I categorized the books as more magic realism than fantasy, because this is a world imagined through eyes and minds whose concept of reality differs from ours. Gods and monsters walk the land, and perspective swirls and shatters like the shards of a kaleidoscope. Author J.T.T. Ryder’s style reflects this; the view never stands still. Characters move from friend to foe in a few brief strokes of a sword; brothers are sworn allies and then enemies. Nothing is quite what it seems in this violent world of sworn oaths and ritual battles.

Vidav’s companions are men, but it is women who drive him forward: his hatred for Slighan, his oath to keep Myrnna safe.  His ability to see into the otherworld is a gift from the Cailleach, the hag of the hills.  He both is drawn to and repulsed by the women whose fates drive his own, whether human or something else. But they wield power, both that of sexual attraction and that of judgement, and he cannot escape that, even when he believes he has.

Ryder pulls on many sources and many legends: the Wild Hunt chases through the sky; the Blue Men of Minch, selkies, Amazons all make an appearance. They fit into Vidav’s concepts of his world; while he may be surprised they have manifested, he’s not surprised they exist. Echoes of Cuchulainn – a hero to Vidav—resonate in his worldview: death matters little, fame does.

The Lion of Skye should be read after Hag of the Hills for a full appreciation of the world and characters Ryder envisions; it lacks the worldbuilding of the first book which is necessary to understanding Brennus/Vidav and what drives him. Together they make up an unusual story steeped in mythology; an envisioning of a culture inseparable from the mountains and rivers and oceans in which it developed, and whose spirits of those places are as real to its inhabitants as the birds of the air or the fish of the sea, but with behaviour far less predictable.

The Shadow of the Mole

What is sanity? What is real, and what is not? In the midst of the Great War, in the inescapable nightmare of trench warfare, a comatose man is found. He has no identification; he will admit to neither a name nor a past. He believes he is dead, and someone else inhabits his body.

The young physician Michel Denis, himself physically transformed by the war, sees the man, nicknamed The Mole, as a sufferer of shellshock, the term for what we would now call PTSD. His interest in the relatively new medical field of psychiatry encourages him to believe The Mole’s symptoms are both real and treatable—and perhaps a way for Denis to forget his own psychic pain and self-loathing triggered by the loss of an arm.

The Mole begins to write—in ‘automatic writing’—a strange and disturbing story of a dark sexual awakening of a young man with grandiose ideas of his own importance, filled with imagery and archetypes that could be pulled from the unexpurgated Grimm’s tales. His character, Alain Mangin, inhabits the night, mining its secrets both in his role as a investigator and for his own obsessive search for a girl and her brother from his past. But in this novel within a novel, where Alain Mangin may or may not be an alter ego of The Mole, even this shadow figure is unsure if the people he searches for are real or a product of his mind. But Mangin becomes peripherally involved in Dr. Joseph Breuer’s treatment of ‘Anna O’, an actual landmark case in the development of psychiatric treatment and analysis. Reality and the inventions of the mind intertwine in many levels in The Shadow of the Mole, and this is only one of them.

Sight is a recurring image in The Shadow of the Mole; eyes are a motif. Medical staff stop seeing people and see only wounds. Visions are not uncommon among the men in the trenches. Healing in Breuer’s approach comes from looking inward, and Denis believes this is key to treating shellshock and The Mole. But it forces him, too, to look inward, at his own childhood and his own self-revulsion. At the same time, looking outward, observation, is necessary as a doctor and as a witness to the hell of the first World War.

The Shadow of the Mole is a complex, challenging, demanding book, delving into the labyrinth of the human mind, of questions of reality and fantasy, of cruelty intentional and random, of free will and fate, of how we interpret our world through the apparent duality of science and mythos. The writing is evocative; the imagery sometimes horrifying, and the ending chilling. A book that will stay with me for a long time, for the quality of its writing and because it made me think.

Bob van Laerhoven


Bob van Laerhoven is a Belgian writer and traveller whose work has been translated into most European languages, as well as Russian and Chinese.
He made his debut as a novelist in 1985 with “Nachtspel – Night Game.” He quickly became known for his colorful, kaleidoscopic novels in which the fate of the individual is closely related to broad social transformations. His style slowly evolved in his later novels to embrace more personal themes while continuing to branch out into the world at large. International flair has become his trademark.
As a travel writer he has explored conflicts and trouble-spots across the globe from the early 1990s to 2004. Echoes of his experiences on the road also trickle through in his novels. During the Bosnian war, Van Laerhoven spent part of 1992 in the besieged city of Sarajevo. Three years later he was working for MSF – Doctors without frontiers – in the Bosnian city of Tuzla during the NATO bombings.
All these experiences contribute to Bob Van Laerhoven’s rich and commendable oeuvre, as the versatile author of novels, travel stories, theatre pieces, biographies, non-fiction, letters, columns, articles…
His work has received many accolades.

The Hercule Poirot Prize for best crime-novel of the year with “De Wraak van Baudelaire – Baudelaire’s Revenge”
Also for Baudelaire’s Revenge, the USA BEST BOOK AWARD 2014 in the category Fiction: mystery/suspense.
“Dangerous Obsessions” was voted “Best short story collection of 2015: in The San Diego Book Review.
“Heart Fever” was one of the five finalists – and the only non-American author – of the Silver Falchion Award 2018 in the category “Short Stories Collections.”
“Return to Hiroshima”, was listed in the top ten of international crime novels in 2018 in the British quality review blog “MurderMayhem&More”
“Alejandro’s Lie” was named the best political thriller of 2021 by BestThrillers.com