11 Feb 2014

“Smokescreen” by Khaled Talib

1 Comment Book Reviews

“Smokescreen” by Khaled Talib is a fast paced, action packed and highly intelligent espionage thriller that I must highly recommend. Smoke Screen
It concerns an assassination plot, in this case the killing of the Israeli Prime Minister on a visit to Singapore. Talib does an excellent job at showing the different sides and interests in this conspiracy story that has a great complexity of plot, to say the least.
Exposing connections between unlikely allies and focusing on the role of Singapore in the peace process covers some of the well researched and plausible background for the story, but this novel is not limited to political and diplomatic issues.
There is plenty of action, violence, sex even and powerful writing that makes for a gripping read and fast turning of the pages.
The setting in Singapore has been a particular plus for me for personal reasons but it adds a new aspect and dimension to the ‘issue’ of Israel and the peace negotiations that I am certain will be appreciated by many readers. There are several great scenes that as responsible reviewer I must not spoil for you but let me assure you that Talib is creative in his writing. Realistic dialogue, fast pacing and well chosen characters make for an explosive combination that keep the readers interest and suspense up throughout.

At an ancient café in Cairo, two veteran spies plot a covert mission to resolve — once and for all — the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. The pledge: Israel will make a major concession as part of the peace treaty. In Singapore, Jethro Westrope, a magazine journalist, stumbles onto the scene of a murder: the beautiful Niki Kishwani directs him, in her last breath, to a digital recorder, evidence that puts Jethro’s life in serious danger. And, much worse, he is framed for Niki’s murder. Jethro sets out to find Niki’s killer and is drawn into a web of deception and intrigue involving officials from the Singaporean, Israeli, and American governments, each with a complex, competing, and potentially deadly agenda. Against this pulse-pounding backdrop, Jethro races to find answers and save himself —yet nothing is as it seems. He finds himself at the centre of a political plot so diabolical and sweeping in its world implications that he is stunned to discover tomorrow’s news headlines today. He is being set up not only as a murderer but as an assassin, and something much larger than his own fate is in his hands

Interview with the author:

Tell us a little about yourself as writer and a person. Khaled

Well, for starters, you shouldn’t trust me with chocolates. Imagine a vampire staring at someone’s neck after it has been nicked by a razor blade while shaving. My mother, repeatedly to this day, complains that I eat chocolates as if they were rice. However, I have to watch myself these days because my doctor has warned me about having too many sweets. Try to imagine a vampire changing diet from blood to water. Not going to happen.

By nature, I am a tenacious person. I think it is an important asset to have as a writer. When my publisher rejected my novel Smokescreen the first time around, he wrote an email saying he ex-pected a fuming email in response. Instead, I replied politely enquiring if I could resubmit my manuscript. A year later, I sent him a new pitch. I scored.

What made you become a writer? Have you always written?

During my first year in primary school, I couldn’t read and write well. To overcome this problem, my mother gave me a book to read entitled, Circus Days Again. I read it slowly. Written by an English author named Grid Blyton, I found myself yearning for more books afterwards. I discovered a treasure box of old books that belonged to my mother in the basement. Inside this box, there were some books penned by another English author with the same surname as Grid. I assumed they were either married to each other or they were siblings. It took me a long time to realise that Grid was in fact Enid. You see, I could not make out the ‘E’ in the author’s name on the book cover because it was written cursively.
One day my mother came home with some fresh books. She bought them from a bookstore. These books were also by Enid Blyton. However, they were different. They had the element of mystery and suspense, which intrigued me. From that day, I became acquainted with the Famous Five, Five Find-Outers. I also discovered the Secret Seven, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Three Investigators and The Hardy Boys. Before I knew it, I was participating in book quizzes and storytelling competitions in school.
When I was fourteen, I decided to try to write a detective story. During school recess, I stayed back in class to write the story in a textbook. One day, however, I decided to take a break. I stepped out of class and left the textbook on my desk. When I came back later, I found one of my classmates reading the material. Instead of encouraging me to go on, he mocked my writing. He even invited everyone else in class to laugh at me. They couldn’t understand what I was doing.
The scary part is the same classmate tried to contact me months after I had signed a contract with my publisher. I refused to return his telephone call out of fear that he might jinx my publishing effort. I am not superstitious but it is so uncanny that he should show up after thirty-five years when my novel was about to be released.
I guess I have always wanted to write but I didn’t know where to begin. I didn’t dare tell anyone that I wanted to write. I was afraid they might laugh at me – again. But one thing led to another and a book was born. I think the secret is to believe in yourself. It’s not easy but it can be done… the question is, how badly do you want it?

When did you decided to write thrillers?

One evening in Singapore, I attended a high society party. Suddenly, an apparition appeared in the image of a young man. I am not sure why he appeared. Maybe I was bored, maybe I was looking for inspiration. The apparition stalked me for days… and the days became years. That stalker is my protagonist, Jethro Westrope. My subconscious was pestering me to write a book. So I discarded the time has come. 

What is the easiest about writing and what is the hardest?

For me, the easiest part about writing is to describe action scenes and develop characters People seem to love my protagonist and hate his nemesis with a vengeance. I take that as a compliment. I also enjoy doing research, and I get a rush when I discover something interesting that I can put into the book. The hardest part would be sitting down and writing… and oh, the rewrites… it really sucks you dry.

Would you say there is a message in the book beyond the story? Do you find it is well received and picked up by the reviewers?

A reviewer said she felt like my novel had a “hidden story within a story.” I’ll leave it to the reader to decipher the mystery. Smokescreen delves into many themes from a micro to a macro perspective. It also discusses issues concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the United State’s position on the question of Palestine.

What do you like most about your characters? Which one is your favourite?

Smokescreen is made up of an eclectic mix of interesting characters, each with a unique personality. What makes these characters interesting is that they are made up of people from various parts of the world. So readers can expect different tones of voices. My favourite character is the mysterious spy named ‘X.’ He is an enigmatic personality.

Who would play the characters in a film?

I never thought of that. Now that you’ve asked, here are my choice selections:
• Donald Sutherland would be the perfect actor to play ‘X’.
• Laurence Fishburne could play Michael Dexter, the United States ambassador.
• Ryan Reynolds would be suitable for the character of Dexter’s sidekick, Robert De Angelo.
• George Young, a British actor in Singapore, could get away with being my protagonist.

What are your next projects? Tell us about your other books.

I am working on a new novel set in Europe. This time, the novel takes a different theme altogether, but it’s still within the thriller genre. I have a created a new characters.

Who are your literary influences? What are your favourite books/ films/ albums?

Oh, so many. I am an eclectic personality so my influences include Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Paulo Coelho, Naguib Mahfouz… the list goes on. And I have so many favourite books – too many to mention. To Kill a Mocking is a favourite classic while Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders is a must read… it’s a sad story. I even read books for children, romance novels and young adults… practically anything that I find appealing. I also have a fascination for old movies. Some of my favourites include Juggernaut, The Pink Panther, Three Days of the Condor , Our Man Flint, Murder by Death, Clue, Death on the Nile, The Rear Window, and of course the James Bond franchise, particularly the ones with Sean Connery and Roger Moore. 

What would your friends tell us if we asked for your best and your oddest qualities?

They would say I am honest, trustworthy, harmless, quiet and hard working. At the same time, they will also say that I am fussy, serious and intense.

What are your favourite animal/ colour/ outdoor activity?

I love all animals, especially cats. But I have never seen a green cat, which is my favourite colour. If I step into an office and I don’t see plants, it would really bother me. I am not into sports so you’ll find me most of the time day dreaming at a sheesha cafe having a puff. Well, people might see me as day dreaming but the truth is I am concocting stories in my head.
Singapore is such a small island so there isn‘t really much to do apart from the usual like going to a cafe with friends or to the movies. Blame it on gravity otherwise I’ll be sitting on the moon or some exploring some planet. However, when I do get the opportunity to do some recreational activity, I enjoy exploring the nooks and crannies of the island. Strangely, despite its size, there’s always something new to discover. I am hoping to visit some island that belongs to Singapore. It’s has a lighthouse with an interesting history.

What would you take to a remote island?

Apart from the necessary, a pencil sharpener… in case I need to sharpen some sticks.

Who would you like to invite for dinner and why?

I’d like to invite Keith Thomson, the New York Times bestselling author of Once a Spy, for dinner. I promised him a meal if we ever meet after he gave me a blurb for my book. In fact, I think I owe everyone else lunch, including Jon McGoran, author of Drift, Ruth Harris, co-author of Brainwashed and Hooked and Jake Needham, author of The Umbrella Man and The Ambassador’s Wife.

What else would you like us to know about you and your books?

Smokescreen taking the espionage thriller genre to a unique level. Readers can expect the unexpected. It’s not every day someone from Singapore writes a thriller novel so I hope people will enjoy this book.



AMAZON http://www.amazon.com/Smokescreen-Khaled-Talib-ebook/dp/B00H4CVRL8

SMASHWORDS https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/384871

02 Feb 2014

M. Joseph Murphy: Groundhog day Author Interview, “A Fallen Hero Rises (Sword of Kassandra)” and “Council of Peacocks (Activation)”

1 Comment Book Reviews

“A Fallen Hero Rises (Sword of Kassandra) by M. Joseph Murphy is an accomplished piece of fantasy / science fiction writing and a very enjoyable read. 1614427_10152145734570546_1830065818_o
Set on the distant planet of Maghe Sihre seers have ominous premonitions when an earthling crashes down through the void and onto their planet. The damage to the void is seen as a threat to the planet but there is also the mystery to resolve as to why the boy has landed on their planet. A separate narrative tells us about earthling Tadgh Dooley’s background as he gradually regains his memory.
From the first dialogue it was clear to me that the author has created some memorable and colourful characters that go beyond the often found fantasy stereotypes. With the – to my ears sometimes – obscure names and parameters of the new world it took me a little to get the hang of the story but the narrative that deals with Tadgh’s past hooked me into insisting and I am very glad I did. What follows is classic fantasy and science fiction fare with action and outworldly technology and fighting tools. However, I found much of the dialogue and the presented concepts of human and supernatural powers quite deep and meaningful. Tadgh has such powers and needs to control them. With wise men but also some villain figures around him the story has some truly great suspense that kept my interest on several levels.
As this is the first book in a series it does not come to a complete conclusion but leaves us craving for book 2.
I don’t often read fantasy and when I do I frequently feel it has been done before. “A Fallen Hero Rises” has some unusual and profound components that made me enjoy the read very much.
Recommended for fans of the genre and those who are curious and for those who like myself like gay characters in stories without it becoming a gay story.


To celebrate Ground Hog’s Day, A Fallen Hero Rises, will be free for one day only on Feb 02 2014.  myBook.to/AFallenHeroRises 

Please consider getting it and “like” the book on Amazon. You’d be amazed at the power of a “like” on potential readers. If you like what you read, the author would naturally appreciate a review but it’s not required.

Maybe if the book gets enough downloads it’s a sign that winter’s almost over.

Interview with M. Joseph Murphy:

Tell us a little about yourself as writer and a person.

Not much to tell. I’m a man. I write stuff. I have cats. Oh and I was abducted by aliens as a child but we won’t talk about that.

What made you become a writer? Have you always written?

I wrote my first novella at 13. It was a horror story about a abandoned one-room school house. The idea still creeps me out. As for what made me become a writer, I’ll credit my high school teacher Ms. Elizabeth Christie. She pulled me aside one day after class and told me that, of all her students, only me and one other person could actually make a career out of it. Having someone show that much faith in me changed my life. It also made me want to be a teacher.

When did you decided to write your chosen genres? Do you have a favourite genre?

It was never a conscious decision. When Stephen King was asked why he wrote horror he gave the perfect analogy. He talked about people fishing on a lake and each person has a unique net. They’re all going into the same area, the unconscious dream world, but each person catches different things because they have different nets. Fantasy is just watch catches in my net.

How long does it take you to write and publish a book?

I write 5 pages a day, normally. That means I can get the first draft done in 2-3 months. That’s when play times over and I get to work. When the first draft is finish, I normally spend 5-10 hours a day revising. After that it’s off to beta readers followed by another round of revisions. Then it’s off to the proofreader and another round of revisions. All in all, it takes about 6 months to write and publish a book. That means I can put out about 2 a year at my current pace.

What is the easiest about writing and what is the hardest?

There are few things in life as much fun as writing a first drafts. It’s like dreaming with my eyes open. Editing for grammar and punctuation sucks monkey butt. However, the hardest part is cutting out the cool scenes that are messing with the pacing. For A Fallen Hero Rises, I removed over 80 pages focused on Eiodeesh and Gnocko. They became minor characters because it helped the pacing.

Would you say there is a message in the book beyond the story?

I have a love/hate relationship with subtext. I majored in English so I could talk about how Council of Peacocks is about fate and whether or not you have control over it. But honestly, I hope people read it and say “Woah. That was cool.”

For A Fallen Hero Rises, it was really important for me to have a gay character, something that is almost non-existent in the fantasy genre. There are, of course, a few examples, but I had to go searching for them. I also wanted to make sure it wasn’t a “gay story”. It’s just a story in which one of the characters happens to be gay.

Do you find it is well received and picked up by the reviewers?

I’m overwhelmed by how well it’s been received. Even from people that don’t generally read my genre. The only negative reviews I’ve had were on grammar and spelling errors in Council of Peacocks when it first came out. I sent it off for another round of proofreading to fix that. I can’t believe how well A Fallen Hero Rises is selling. I’ve barely done any marketing but it’s already outselling Council of Peacocks.

What do you like most about your characters? Which one is your favourite? Who would play the characters in a film?

It’s weird. I’ve read articles where writers say their characters are like children and you can’t ask them to pick a favorite. But most parents know they actually DO have a favorite child. We’re just not supposed to admit that because we don’t want to hurt the other children’s feelings.

I love Wisdom. He’s in my head. I think about him even when I’m not writing. His relationship with Echo is complex to say the least. I feel the same way about them that I do the characters in the Notebook. I also have a soft spot for Jessica. She’s hilarious and brutal. Totally kick ass. I think the character that will surprise people the most is Elaine. She has an incredible journey ahead of her. I can’t wait to show everyone where she goes.

As for who would play them in a movie? For Council of Peacocks,  I did a blog post about this. Lucas Till as Josh, Peter Mensah as Wisdom, Emilia Clarke as Echo.


For A Fallen Hero Rises, I picture a young Landon Liboiron from his days on Degrassi. Not the dirty version we see on Hemlock Grove.  I picture Liam Hemsworth as Menphis and Garrett Hedlund as Shonn.

One of the things I like most about your books is the unexpected depth. You write fantasy but the characters have bite. Do you find that fantasy reader appreciate this?

I hope so. I know I do. I can’t stand one-dimensional characters. One thing I admire about George R.R. Martin is he’s able to convince the reader that even the most despicable villain could be seen as a hero by someone. I especially want to make sure my female characters are strong. I’m a fanboy for Joss Whedon and I call myself a feminist. It’s important to me the women in my stories are real. I know that doesn’t often happen in fantasy.

What are your next projects? Tell us about your other books.

Well, I am a planner. There will be five books in the Activation Series and 5 books in the Sword of Kassandra series. I’ve already got them all plotted out because I’m a bit crazy like that. I plan on releasing one book from each series a year. That means I need to write and publish two books a year which is doable.

I also have five books I wrote over the last twenty years that aren’t related to either series. At some point I’ll take them out, revise them and help them see the light of day.  

What is your life like? What do you do for pleasure and work when you are not writing?

My life is amazing. I’m recently married. I teach at a local college. I have the best job in the world. Every day I have a current or former student tell me “Thank you for helping me change my life.” It doesn’t get any better than that.

When I’m not writing I’m an obsessive video game player. I’m currently addicted to Puzzle Quest and I’ve recently started playing Final Fantasy XIV.

Who are your literary influences?

The books I read a s kid made me want to be a writer. For fantasy that was Robert Asprin’s Myth series. Lloyd Alexander’s the Chronicles of Prydain. I’m also a massive horror fan. I’ve always proclaimed Stephen King is one of the greatest writers of our life time. I got lots of slack for that in university but Stephen King got an entire generation of people interested in horror and reading in general. Who the heck cares if you win a Booker Prize if no more than 10 people read your book?

Also Chris  Clairmont’s run on the X-men pretty much defined what I think cool is.

What are your favourite books/ films/ albums?

Perhaps my all time favorite book is The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. It changed the way I looked at fantasy as a genre and also affected the way I looked at the world. I also love the Wheel of Time series. I’d pick Robert Jordan over George R.R. Martin any day.

Favorite movie: The Color Purple if I want to cry or Scott Pilgrim vs. The World if I’m just looking for a good time.

Favorite album: I’m a massive music fan so this is nearly impossible. I could write a book on all the great albums out there. Best albums ever would include The Beatles White Album and Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails.

What are your views on independent publishing?

For good or bad it’s the future. Recently Amazon revealed that 25% of their ebook sales are for self-published books. The good news is it’s easier to get published than ever. The bad news is that too many people publish books that aren’t ready to get published. And don’t even get me started on the junk that some people put as their cover art. The tricky thing for those of us that are truly serious about our writing is distinguishing ourselves from lazy writers. But I guess that’s always been the case.

Can you recommend any indie books/ authors?

So many good writers. I love Travis Luedke. His Nightlife series is amazing and his books the Shepherd is so much fun. He writes like Richard Laymon. The fact that Travis treats me like a peer helps me realize I really am a writer. It also shows that he’s an amazing guy.

Also, if you like Douglas Adams, I’d recommend Canterbury Tales by Luke Bellmason. It’s beautifully written. I kind of hate the guy because it’s so perfectly written.

Helen Boswell’s Mythology series is perfect if you’re looking for YA.

What would your friends tell us if we asked for your best and your oddest qualities?

They’d say my best quality is my ability to stand up for what I think is right. I’m a confronter.  I’m willing to have the hard conversations but I’m not willing to throw chairs like on Jerry Springer. My oddest quality is my OCD traits. I have to have all the cans in the kitchen facing outwards. I occasionally refold all the towels and sheets in the linen closet and color-coordinate the clothes in my closet. All of these make total sense to me but apparently is a sign of mental illness.

What are your favourite animal/ colour/ outdoor activity?

Animal is an otter. Seriously they are like swimming cats. How can you not love an otter. Favorite color is blue. As for outdoor activity, I love camping. For a few days the whole world slows down.

What would you take to a remote island?

My first thought is a shotgun. I would go a little bit mental on a remote island. I’m not the type to sit and relax on a beach. I like to keep super busy. But if I was stuck on a deserted island and decided not to kill myself I’d probably take my tablet and a solar powered recharger. That might finally give me time to catch up on all the books I’d like to read. 

Who would you like to invited for dinner and why?

Right now, you to thank you for the interview. Aside from that I’d love to have Jane Epsenson over. If you don’t know the name, she’s a big-time writer and producer. She’s worked on Once Upon a Time as well as little shows like Battlestar Gallactica and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She’s my hero and also one of the nicest people on twitter.

What are you writing at the moment and where would we find out about your next projects?

I’m about 180 pages into the sequel to Council of Peacocks, Beyond the Black Sea. Yesterday I wrote about Josh and Wisdom traveling into the Axeinus. Today I’m writing a scene in which we learn the history of the Orpheans and how they were imprisoned in the Axeinus. As soon as it’s off to beta readers, in March, I start work on the sequel to A Fallen Hero Rises. That will be called  Rise of the Graunskyegs. I can’t wait to write that one. It will be super fun. Imagine Jet Li fighting a zombie invasion.

What else would you like us to know about you and your books?

I don’t know. I think you know more about me know than the NSA. I will say this. I ain’t going anywhere. I take my writing very seriously and I’m not leaving this planet until all my books are done. I think about what happened to Robert Jordan. He passed away before he was able to finish his monster series, The Wheel of Time. It’s being handled now very well by Brandon Sanderson but I don’t want the same thing to happen to me. It was the final kick in the butt I needed to get my story out there.

I humbled beyond anything that so many people enjoy those stories. Me and my characters thank you.

Social Media Links

Twitter https://twitter.com/Windswarlock (@windswarlock)

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/joseph.murphy3

Google+ https://plus.google.com/u/0/+MJosephMurphy/posts

Blog http://councilofpeacocks.blogspot.ca

Website http://mjosephmurphy.info

Joseph Murphy was born and raised in Ontario, Canada. He earned his geekdom at an early age. He read X-Men comics from at the age of 8 and it only went downhill from there.

As a teenager he wrote short stories and wanted to be the next Stephen King. Instead of horror, however, he kept writing fantasy stories. After surviving high school as a goth with a purple mohawk, he studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Windsor.

When not writing, Joseph works as Lead Accounting instructor at Everest College. He also lectures to other businesses on outside-the-box marketing. He lives in Windsor, ON (right across the stream from Detroit, Michigan) with his husband, two cats, and shy-but-friendly ghost.


“Council of Peacocks (Activation)” by M. Joseph Murphy is a highly entertaining and clever paranormal thriller. 
It is a fun read with some unexpected depth. Set between Canada and Greece it involves amongst other great ingredients time travel, djinns and wizzards. 

While out camping a group of six youngsters get attacked and run from what appears clearly not human creatures.
As they are on the run we learn more about how they link to a much bigger picture.

The Council of Peacocks, a group of ruthless wizards under the leadership of Propates are taking on the world while Wisdom, an immortal scorcerer and his team of ‘gifted’ youth, the Anomolies, fight back.

It is the classic battle of good versus evil, but not in as simple a way at all. The plot is highly evolved and complex, cleverly constructed and very engaging. Human kind is evolving and threatened, different groups of beings fight each other and battle for the ultimate tool to wipe the other out, time and events are muddled up by repetitive time travel to alter history, so there is a lot going on.

The book is written with great suspense and action that cleverly involves the hero and the anti-hero. The characters top me are clearly one of the biggest strengths of the book; they are not your average and boring stereotypes, they have issues, contradictions, a past and they make for some excellent entertainment. They even add some serious thoughts and a philosophical dimension to the story at times.

The paranormal or fantasy part of this thriller is very engaging with lots of great ideas and imaginative creations. You dive into this world and feel for once someone has not re-told the same story with just a different colouring.

There are surprises in the plot that save us from predictability, the language is superb and the humour in the novel was just right for an epic fantasy like this to ‘keep it real’.

I don’t often read fantasy books but this one pressed all the right buttons. .

Well done and highly recommended.


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