Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Watcher Ross Armstrong

If I’m grumpy today, Ross Armstrong, it’s all your fault. If you hadn’t written The Watcher I might be properly refreshed after a good night’s sleep. But because I simply could not put the book down until I had finished it I am now tired, bleary eyed and …………….grumpy. So if it affects my review you’ve only yourself to blame!

As I read the opening blurb I yawned a little as the premise is not a new one, its been done before so I wondered how and if this writer might deal with it and make it different and engaging. The ‘how’ might cause me to offer spoilers which I must try not to do but the answer to the ’if’ query is, yes, he does make it different up to a point.

Opening paragraphs made me think Rear Window meets Girl on the Train but the prologue was tantalising. Crucial with a thriller because if it isn’t you can so easily lose your reader. What I also found interesting was a male writer with a first person female protagonist. Probably down to past experience but alarm bells go off in my head. However I think a very good, convincing job was done here. Much has been said and written about the differences between the male and female mind so it is always interesting to see how a writer deals with the exchanges and interactions and responses from a mind set that is not their natural one. 

The structure of the novel written in the form of one person addressing has been done before. If done well it works, be it diary, letter, journal etc, it is intriguing to wonder who the recipient is, and it also allows the writer to convey aspects of the narrative that wouldn’t work with direct unfolding of events. I liked the chapter headings which piqued my curiosity but ultimately they didn’t deliver with the impact I was hoping for. 

The novel began slowly, scene setting and allowing the reader to adjust and relax? Not for long. The pace accelerates and without wishing tor reveal too much it seems to mirror the pace of our heroine’s mind. Lily is yet another troubled character that seems to populate the so called psychological thriller so much in vogue at the moment. But without an unreliable narrator there would not be quite so much of a story. And do we enjoy reading about flawed characters because they make us feel better about our own quirks?

Once could examine the story deeply and find some social comment but there’s no compulsion to. It can be enjoyed as a darn good, debut thriller. I did piece together what had happened to a certain extent which pleases me but there were also some twists that were unexpected. That also pleases me. The conclusion isn’t one that ties up all the ends neatly. If you look for that in a novel it might disappoint but on the other hand if you want to go away thinking about what you’ve just read you’ll be delighted. 

I appreciate that I received an uncorrected, proof copy but I found mistakes in abundance and I do hope these are spotted and dealt with accordingly. It would be a shame if they find their way into the finished product.

Thanks to  Real Readers for giving me the opportunity to meet another promising novelist.Consider my appetite whetted.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Life Assistance Agency - Thomas Hocknell

‘Bless’ was the first word that came to my mind as I started to read this book. ‘Bless’ for a debut novel and that indefinable force that pervades a writer’s first work and fills me with an emotion that is equally indefinable. Then I ceased my blessings because this guy means business!!

It’s going to be a difficult one to review without giving too much away. And if you are going to read it, which I’m sure you are, I don’t want to spoil it for you. Other reviewers have offered comparisons with Dan Brown but for me I was reminded fleetingly of Douglas Adams who surely has to be an influence? But also of Susanna Clarke’s Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange in terms of the mood and situations created. 

This is a deceptive book. On the one hand it is a witty, contemporary adventure story but on the other there are some supernatural and spiritual notions to be explored. The diary entries of the excursions into Elizabethan Europe were authentic and well paced enough to complement the present day narrative. I think it was these diary entries that so firmly reminded me of Susanna Clarke’s story. 

The relationships between the sets of male characters offer an interesting parallel which I like to think was intended rather than accidental. Historical mirrors almost. Without wishing to offer any smattering of sexism the female characters were functional rather than engaging and whilst in some situations the latent feminist in me would be strongly objecting it does seem to work here and I wasn’t unduly offended.

I have to say I did see part of the final denouement and the clues were all there for the taking. That usually makes me feel pretty smug. But the other part I didn’t see until too late!! There was something satisfyingly complete about the entire story. which I didn’t anticipate initially. 

This isn’t a book I would have selected to read left to my own devices. Nudge Books offered it to me as a maverick choice and maverick is a good word here. This is a maverick book. And I was blessed to have had the opportunity to read it.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Where Dead Men Meet - Mark Mills

Mark Mills has been on my ‘to do’ list since The Savage Garden. I know, I know, that’s years ago. I throw my hands up and fully acknowledge my tardiness. But having finally got around to ‘doing’ him again courtesy of Nudge Books it does give credence to the old adage that some things are worth waiting for.

I will begin by what is wrong with this book. The ending. That’s what’s wrong. There shouldn’t have been an ending. I didn’t want it to end, not ever, I wanted to go on reading! It’s all a thriller should be for me.

Despite the time lapse between my reading of this and The Savage Garden it was easy to return to Mr. Mill’s style of writing. There were some thematic similarities with what I had read before. There is the tried and tested formula of a young protagonist, a feisty female and a true love of Italy. And another well researched, historical, crime thriller that has you turning the page eagerly to see what happens next.

There are times when the tried and tested become cliches and there were elements in this plot  that I had a faint feeling I’d come across before. I hesitate to detail them for fear of offering spoilers but instead of coming across as cliched they gave me more a feeling of deja vu which added to the mystique of the plot as a whole.

Not for the faint hearted there are some scenes of brutality but they are important to the development of the narrative and our response to the characters. The story is tightly woven and unfolds, a thread at a time, allowing us opportunities to try and piece things together. There are no detectives in this thriller, just ourselves, the readers. There are surprises. There are elements the reader is made aware of but not the protagonists and you have a sense of wishing you could warn them what is round the corner, literally, almost!!

It’s an economic book without being brief. All the detail is necessary and there are no extraneous embellishments. Such books are a pleasure to read. The writer understands his own genre which may smack of stating the obvious but in my experience it isn’t always so. 

Mark Mills is staying put on my ‘to do’ list but I will not allow such a time lapse before I read some more of his work.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Himself - Jess Kidd

Please read this book with an Irish accent

I was originally given an ebook version of this book to review but then good fortune sent me a complimentary paperback so I’ve been able to read it properly and enjoyed it all the more for that.

A powerful opening chapter sets the tone for this debut thriller from a bright young talent, Jess Kidd.
Eloquent, descriptive passages and abundant similes stamp this firmly as an enthusiastic debut novel.

A deceptive portrait of a sleepy Irish village seeks to conceal what has transpired in its murky past. Ballykissangel it ain’t! (Ballykissangel? Sorry, that’s me showing my age! TV show from the 90’s. Google it). A reference to Under Milkwood on the book cover had me sniggering with contempt which lasted milliseconds once I started to read. I got the allusion totally. 

And all is moving along swimmingly when The Sixth Sense - ‘I see dead people’ - interferes.
The supernatural and the spirit world isn’t my thing in fiction and I was worried that the initial credibility of what was an engaging narrative would erode for me.

I needn’t have worried!  This writer deals with the themes in such a way as to make it all palatable. All credit for a bold, ambitious premise from a first novel and it certainly makes an impact. Underneath all of this is a murder mystery, the bare bones of which has been done many times before so respect for this writer’s attempt to take a different approach.

Identity is a key theme, one man seeking to verify his own identity, and seeking identities - parent, murderer. And are the sins of the father visited upon the son? You’ll have to read it to find out.

There’s a feast of characters some of whom could be straight out of Father Ted and others straight out of Stephen King! There are some subtleties in the narrative that make you do a double take. Echoes of something read before, a wondering as to whether the comedy you saw was really intended? Mrs. Brown’s Boys or Samuel Beckett?

There are some starkly, brutal descriptions that at times I found gratuitous especially where animals were concerned. There was enough quality in the writing to leave it to the readers’ imaginations.

Overall I found the book weird yet curiously compelling and in a saturated market I guess you have to find something different to make your work stand out and whether you love it or hate it Jess Kidd does something different with this novel. I suspect this is a name to note and to watch out for. 

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Run - Mandasue Heller

Well, I won’t lie. I read Mandasue Heller’s first book years ago and I was underwhelmed. Unkindly I thought she should just stick to singing. However in that fourteen odd years she has developed and grown as a writer which brings us to her latest work, Run.

In common with many crime and thriller novels the book begins with a tantalising prologue suggestive of a dark, sinister ride ahead. Then the main body of the novel begins. It seems to be no more than a fairly average chick lit tale. The dialogue and events are relatively prosaic - ordinary people doing and saying ordinary things, with some exceptions. So much so that I wondered if I had dreamed the prologue, a mis print from another book maybe? 

But gradually an undercurrent that all is not quite as it seems begins to slither insidiously into the narrative creating the unease that some of the characters themselves must have been feeling. Then it is as if the floodgates of thrillerdom are unleashed! The pace picks up and the story unravels as anything but prosaic. Hints and dangling carrot suggestions that had been carefully thrust at the reader appear to be unfounded until the crescendo reaches its peak. Then when you think you can exhale with relief that an equilibrium has been achieved for the time being the epilogue grabs you roughly by the collar and demands you think again. I did not see the final denouement coming. And I love it when that happens!!

The characters are a mixed bunch, functional for the purpose of the fiction in many cases. But perhaps some stereotypes we can identify from the real world and feel some sorrow for their unhappy, damaged lives. Others we can loathe for their devious, self aggrandising, thug behaviour. Through them all there’s a vague suggestion of social comment maybe, it’s there for the reader to digest if they want to. 

At the risk of sounding like Miranda’s Mum (from the TV show) this is what I like to call ‘genre fusion’ .
On the one hand you have a credible thriller and on the other you have a chick lit tale. Personally I am not a great fan of chick lit but I do love the crime/thriller genre so I’m pretty happy. And I imagine that a chick lit lover who isn’t that keen on crime/thrillers might also be happy.

And so I can safely say I’m glad Mandasue Heller didn’t just stick to singing!

Thanks, Nudge, for a copy of this.


Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Invasion - Luke Rhinehart

I read Dice Man years ago, way back in the 70’s or 80s, I can’t remember exactly. But I do remember enjoying it immensely and being fascinated by its premise. But I can’t honestly say I’ve ever given Luke Rhinehart a further thought since then and it isn’t that he’s been inactive, with nine novels to his name, but none of them passed within my radar ……. until now.

I was fascinated when I received a copy of Invasion from Nudge Books. It was with real enthusiasm and anticipation that I began to read it. And for the most part I wasn’t disappointed. For in the passage of time between Dice Man and Invasion Mr. Rhinehart has lost none of his punch.

This is E.T. for the digital age, Gremlins in reverse. An invasion of aliens, cute little balls of fur who can morph into a variety of shapes and are extremely intelligent, invade the lives of Billy Morton and his family. What follows is an often hilarious account of the ‘mischief’ these little fur balls get up to if, indeed, hacking into government and corporate computer systems can be seen as ‘mischief’! And that’s just for starters.

You can enjoy this book on just that level; an imaginative science fiction tale of an alien invasion that is lots of fun. Fluffy little aliens who just want to have a good time and play. However you are missing a lot if you leave it there.

For this is a biting satire on the world we live in, with particular reference to American life, politics and military policies. Rhinehart shows no mercy in an almost savage indictment of how badly wrong humans have got  it. And it almost becomes Rhinehart soapbox under the guise of a sci fi novel.

The structure is not a straightforward chapter divide. Each chapter comprises either extracts from Billy Morton’s book My Friend Louie, The Official History of the Alien Invasion, A Report of the Invasion, News Items and on the whole it works. I sometimes found though that I just wanted to ‘get on with the story’ which I found was the chapters of Billy Morton’s book. 

The main characters are all accessible, likeable and believable, which is maybe something of a contradictor given the sci fi premise of the book. Sometimes I found it hard to distinguish between some of the aliens, I had to refer back to names and roles.

I  found the political allusions elusive as they were about American politics of which I know little. But my biggest problem with the book was that I found it over long. I struggled with the last hundred pages because it seemed for me, what needed to be said had been said, the point had been made and made well. The conclusion was suitably open ended leaving room for a sequel. I’m not sure that’s a good idea and I’m not sure yet if I will hunger to read it. Maybe I’ll just throw a dice to decide?!

Thursday, 29 September 2016

The Natural Way of Things - Charlotte Wood

Gosh. Wow. These were the only two words that spring to mind after reading this book. But I have a feeling that they don’t constitute a credible review. I found this to be an extraordinary book and possibly not for the faint hearted for it is not a feel good read. My understanding is that the book has already won an award in the author’s native Australia and I’m not surprised.

It is a disturbing, dystopian work with a premise that should alarm us all. Several girls are kidnapped and imprisoned on what seems to be an abandoned sheep station in the outback and spiral down into degradation and abject desolation. The redemption is ambiguous with intention. For this is not a tale that should leave the reader comfortably believing that they all live happily ever after. It’s almost a Lord of the Flies for the 21st century.

It is an exquisite piece of writing, well crafted descriptive prose and to a certain extent you have to distance yourself from the actual storyline, which is harrowing, to fully appreciate it. 

I found the story to be almost allegorical,  a parable of our time,s which doesn’t make for comfortable reading. There is an undercurrent of anger as much on the part of the writer, I feel, as her characters. None of them, the abducted women nor their jailers, are especially likeable. But the situation into which they all have been thrust defies belief. 

I suppose one of the infuriating things about this book is that it poses questions that maybe have no answers. That isn’t intended as a criticism but it places a high demand on the reader to respond rather than remain passive. It has lot to say about bigotry, feminism, sexism.

This is a very powerful book and I’m not sure I’ve done justice to it with my powerless words. It is a remarkable piece of work which I won’t forget in a hurry.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Thin Air - Michelle Paver

I blanched when I received this paperback from Nudge Books.For underneath the main title the phrase ‘A Ghost Story’ leapt out at me. I don’t choose to read ghost stories. And I’ve not told anyone this before but they spook me!  I don’t know why. They just do. So I decided to read this book in one sitting outside in the sunshine in broad daylight rather than snuggling up in bed with it reading by a bedside lamp casting shadows across my bedroom.

I needn’t have worried!! For, yes, it is a ghost story but not the moody, chain clanking, disappearing through walls sort of ghost story. It was a cerebral ghost story. I was surprised and delighted to find this an utterly absorbing and compelling tale that I think I would have read in one sitting regardless as once I began I didn’t want to put it down.

Michelle Paver is a new writer to me and my research shows she is a British novelist and childrens’ writer and I am pleased to have made her acquaintance! In this novel ‘Thin Air’ she has created an atmosphere so palpable it chills you to the bone - from the cold not the fear! The story deals with a mountaineering expedition in 1935 that in part replicates a previous expedition from 1907 to ascend the mountain Kanchenjunga which lies party in Nepal and partly in Sikkim, India.

The first thing that impressed me was the sustained recreation of the 1930’s; male camaraderie and old pals, linguistically perfect, as you completely believe in the characters and the mindsets of this group of climbers.

The research is thorough and the descriptions so rich that you can imagine every step on the ice and rocks and every nuance of creating the base camps and additional camps on the ascent. 

I’ve never been mountaineering but this book made me feel as if I had and maybe could! The attention to detail renders the whole story so plausible. The emotion created for both reader and the characters is a pendulum of exhilaration and agitation. Most of this achieved through the main protagonist Dr. Stephen Pearce. We make this trip very much with him. It is his responses we feel most keenly.

And the ghost element? Ah, no. I don’t do spoilers.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Mother Tongue - Julie Mayhew

Although this book is set in Russia as I read it I felt it had an almost universal location, it could have been set anywhere in the world. My premise was substantiated by the writer herself in her afterword.

I found this a remarkable story by a novelist hitherto unknown to me. I am grateful to Nudge Books for giving me the opportunity to read it.

I am keen not to offer spoilers of any kind so I will offer no more than the briefest of summaries. Darya Pavlovna loses her younger sister in a terrorist siege. We see how that affects her and her family. The event causes her to seek a new life in Moscow which she believes will solve everything. A rite of passage novel? Maybe. 

There was something almost surreal about the experience. At times it was if I were reading a dystopian novel until a contemporary reference made it clear I wasn’t. It is based on an actual event. But that is almost irrelevant. That isn’t meant to sound heartless. The universality of the book allows the reader to embrace the event as almost symbolic of any act of terrorism. The narrative flows flawlessly making it a very easy book to read but with themes that are far from easy to digest nor should they be. A deceptive tale that makes us think more than we realise.

Given the world we live in today how many of us ever stop to think about how we would behave and react when an act of terrorism strikes at our very heart? This book encourages us to consider this in a very real way. You might be forgiven for thinking that such a theme would make for a sombre read and indeed it is heart wrenching in places. But ultimately there is redemption of a kind and upliftment.

I think one of the strengths of this book is that it can be enjoyed on several levels. The characters are very real, very human. especially Darya the main protagonist. For it is very much her story. Yes, her sister had a mother and a father and other siblings who are devastated by her loss but it is Darya who grabs at our hearts and pushes the reader to consider aspects of love, family, ambition.

And we follow her story as she makes erroneous decisions and mistakes that serve to teach her of life and love. Learning of her fellow man, the good people and the less than good people. If we allow ourselves to, we can grow with her as she finds her way to make sense of the tragedy.

This is a book  that leaves you thinking about it long after you’ve finished reading it. 

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Perfume River - Robert Olen Butler

I have read three of Robert Olen Butler’s previous works and I enjoyed them immensely. But they were all Christopher Marlowe Cobb mysteries. They were deceptive works, easy accessible as historical novels of intrigue, war and adventure but written with an intelligence that I often feared might be overlooked. So I was delighted when Real Readers send me this copy of Mr. Butler’s new book. And it isn’t a Kit Cobb mystery which excited me even more.

 Butler takes themes partially explored in his previous works; relationships on several levels from filial, to lust, to love, to loyalty, to compassion and here they are developed with a more cerebral and philosophical style. War remains a kind of additional character, if you will. Here it is both the second World War and the Vietnam War. Possibly those aspects are more accessible if you are an American but that in no way dilutes the impact of the book for those of us of other nationalities.

It is  a poignant, sensitive tale centreing around Robert Quinlan and his wife Dorla. Their relationship is the catalyst to explore Robert’s family relationships and his past.
There’s plenty here for people to identity with; guilt, regret, secrecy, anger, disappointment and resentment. 

I hesitate to comment on the Perfume River of the title as it could amount to a spoiler which is to do a disservice to the book.

The characters are flawed and needy in some respects which allows the humanity of the book to shine through. The pace is languorous sometimes but it perfectly captures the way we sometimes hesitate in both our thoughts and our deeds. 

The writing style is competent and flowing. As a narrative it reminds one of a symphony where all the parts combine together as one for the finished work. The final denouement was not unexpected and I don’t think the writer intended it to be. All the clues were there. It was more of a case of how and when will this act occur.

This is one of the books that can leave you thinking long after you’ve finished it. And in my book  (no pun intended) it doesn’t get any better.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

The King's Curse

I met Philippa Gregory once. It was at a charity screening of “The Other Boleyn Girl”. She was charming, gracious and totally unpretentious. The signed copy of the book is one of my most treasured possessions. I love history especially the periods she writes about and I have loved every novel in The Cousins War series. I love the way she manages to get under the skin of the remarkable women she writes about. and I love the way the same unfolding of historical events is seen from several different perspectives. I think that demonstrates her unbiased view of history. 

The King’s Curse follows on from The White Princess and this time events are told from the point of view of Margaret Pole. Sometimes when you are reading an fictional account of historical events and are keen to progress in the story you can forget about the amount of incredible research that has been done. It is seamless almost, and that is not always the case. Sometimes historical fiction writers fall into the trap of feeling that they have to throw every single piece of research at you no matter what as if to show off how much work they’ve done. I never get that feeling with Philippa Gregory. Everything is relevant but you are almost unaware that it is research driving the narrative forward.

This book was also interesting as much of it deals with Thomas Cromwell’s influence over Henry VIII so it's hard not to be reminded of Wolf Hall. I read and enjoyed that as an intellectual piece of historical fiction and that is not to impugn Philippa Gregory’s intellect in the slightest but her style is a accessible fusion of historical fact with the human element. 

I think, above, all her love of the period she writes about shines through. I guess the Cousins’ War series is at end but the Tudor Court series seems to be continuing and I imagine I shall continue to enjoy her work for any years to come.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Foreign Bodies - David Wishart

Novelus Hystericus

I found this highly entertaining and amusing. I am not sure that I was supposed to! But I did. It was
Life of Brian meets Up Pompeii. And the reason for that, which surely must be intentional, was this
writer's insistence on creating an historical novel using contemporary vernacular. Normally I'm a
stickler for authenticity in historical fiction but that would necessitate a narrative written in Latin? A
compromising move for a potential readership so I suppose the next best thing is to go in
completely the opposite direction. It works.

Marcus Corvinus has been asked by Emperor Claudius himself to assist in the investigation of a
wine merchant stabbed while napping. All very historically accurate until our hero lets forth a
'Bugger' when something doesn't quite suit him. And it happens more than once, And it still makes
me chuckle.

From my research this would appear to be the 18th, yes, the18th Marcus Corvinus mystery by Mr.
Wishart! My incredulity will confirm that that this is the first I've read and probably my last. Whilst I
enjoyed the novelty of the language and the contrast of an historically accurate depiction of Ancient
Rome the story was no better, no worse than many others. It's a competent, clever piece of writing
with some solid characters. I liked Corvinus’ wife, Perilla, who acts as a willing side sick to our
sleuth of the senate.

I can imagine though that this series does command an army of loyal fans and I have no doubt this
will be well received by them.

I received an ebook copy of this from Breakaway Reviewers

Thursday, 18 August 2016

The Ornatrix - Kate Howard

I am almost lost for words after reading this book. The pendulum is swinging between believing it to either be bordering on literary genius or ………. pretentious twaddle. And I want it to be the former!!

Unusual was always one of the first words that sprung to mind, this is the work of a fertile and unique imagination. I was reminded of Perfume and The Miniaturist and The Gargoyle whilst reading. This is a tale of deception and obsession, jealousy and desire. Without doubt it is more literary than colloquial with some beautiful passages of prose.

The historical research gives the book an almost flawless authenticity. The reader becomes enveloped in sixteenth century Italy imperceptibly. Nothing seems to surprise. Yet the characters seems ethereal , ghostlike, so how appropriate that one of the main characters is named Ghostanza.

If the book has anything to say it is about beauty and the observations made on the theme are timeless. Airbrushing isn’t just the stuff of 21st century digital domains!! And it endures as a metaphor within the novel as created beauty is no more than a veneer to conceal the rot within.

This is a debut novel, something I love. And I chuckled to find another author whose name is ‘Kate’. Maybe I am superstitious but I love novels by all the Kates!! Atkinson, Mosse, Morton, Riordan and now Howard. 

I enjoyed the structure of the book, the little ‘recipes’ for beauty products in between the chapters were fascinating and apparently genuine! The characters are diverse and require the sustained attention of the reader to fully appreciate the dynamics between them all. 

And I am led back to my original premise, is this genius or twaddle? Maybe genius is too strong a word but it is a debut work of remarkable depth. 

I was fortunate to win a copy of this novel from Nudge Books and I am indebted to them for the privilege of ‘meeting’ this new and exciting writer.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Christadora - Tim Murphy

Angels In Manhattan?

The Christadora is a building in Manhattan's East Village by Tompkins Square Park. Originally constructed as a housing solution for the less affluent and the many immigrants in the late 1920’s, then reinvented as a yuppie type residential block inciting riots it remains, a slightly less than iconic  NYC landmark. Iggy Pop,lived there for a while and so did Michael Rosen. It's very real and serves as a lynch pin in this absorbing novel which among other things details AIDS and AIDS activism in New York. It's almost to New York what  Maupin’s Tales of the City is to San Francisco and I was also reminded of Tony Kushner’s play Angels In America.

This is an ambitious novel painting an almost tangible portrait of bohemian art, drugs and sex in New York and Los Angeles. It observes the devastation that addiction, illness, ambition and obsession can wreak on a singular group of people. Milly and Jared are the catalyst for this fiction and all that derives from it and we can link all the characters back to them. Starting in 1981 and concluding in  2020, interesting as that future date doesn't not give rise to any futuristic or scifi type agenda and the progression of time is seamless, the book follows the lives of a handful of characters through those decades.

I want to say that this is a great book but it isn’t really, it’s carried along by its ambition and creates an illusion of being more than it perhaps really is and in many ways it is over long. But ultimately I cared about the characters; I cared about their well being and what happened to them. and it was mostly set in a city I grew to know quite well which always adds another dimension to my reading appreciation. In fact, reading this book made me want to return!!!

I received a copy of this from Breakaway Reviewers.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Hunters in the Dark - Lawrence Osborne

I was attracted to this book because of the title. Earlier this year I read a book by Donato Carrisi called The Hunter of the Dark which I enjoyed immensely. And somehow my instinct deemed the similarity of the titles a good omen!! The moral is to always trust your instincts!!

Set predominantly in contemporary Cambodia the main protagonist is Robert Grieve, an English schoolteacher, who spends his summers travelling and has just traveled from Thailand to Cambodia.

The book moves very languidly and lazily along with deceptively poetic descriptions of the physical beauty of Cambodia creating a discernible atmosphere. You can feel yourself getting hot and sticky from doing very little. There’s a lack of urgency from most of the characters, too. There was a sense of travelling towards something, undefined and not even physical, a kind of Heart of Darkness journey.

Deception is key within this novel, within both the plot structure and the narrative. The bulk of the book maintains Robert’s slow burning journey through the country and, almost listlessly though his life. He endures as a somewhat naive character seemingly unperturbed by any exigencies demanded of him. We are deceived and beguiled by the way the narrative appears to just meander along as if nothing much can or will happen. 

In stark contrast is the primary antagonist of the tale, a corrupt policemen who serves as the catalyst to propel the latter stages of the book along with a Patricia Highsmith flavour that can finally allow the book to be described as a thriller. 

Deceptive too because, if it is not a contradiction, this is a somewhat literary thriller, rich with philosophies and ideologies from several of the characters and a flowing, descriptive narrative too.
The characters are believable in their diverse rationales. 

Lawrence Osborne is an experienced, competent author with an impressive knowledge of Asia. Whilst this is my first journey into his work I found the experience surprisingly compelling. Comparisons with Graham Greene seem to generously offered by other reviewers and I’ve already alluded to Conrad and a Patricia Highsmith yet my impression is that Mr. Osborne has a style all of his own. I am indebted to Nudge Books for the opportunity.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

A Clash of Kings - George R. R. Martin

I Know Nothing

This is the second instalment of Martin’s ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ fantasy sequence of books, better known as Game of Thrones. I unashamedly confess that I started tor read these books after becoming hooked on the TV show.

The first thing that struck me, after the reading the first volume, unreviewed here so far, was the publication date way back in the 1990’s. How did I miss them? Were they best sellers then? If they weren’t why not? It would seem sad, nigh on tragic, to think the books are selling well because of a cult TV series. and it beggars the question how much else of worth is out there but languishing. The other side of the coin is how good that a TV drama should bring this writer to peoples’ attention.

I have found the two volumes I have read to be exciting, well written, well structured and ultimately exploring cerebral depths that a TV series can’t given its visual constraints. 

Of course having watched all the series of the TV show I am familiar with all the characters, I know them well. So detailed are the descriptions and the development of said characters that they have translated beautifully to the small screen. Is it a testament to Martin’s writing or a loving interpretation by the makers of the show?

The books have a wide appeal because they cover so many genres. Fantasy obviously.  Westeros is so finely and cleverly constructed you have to remind yourself it is imaginary. History also. As something of a history buff and lover of historic fiction there is much here to push that button. The Roman Empire, the Hundred Years War, the Wars of the Roses,  the parallels are all there. Adventure? Yes. Thriller? Yes. Romance? Pushing it a bit!! Mystery? Spiritual? 

I have five more volumes to read which I won’t probably won’t finish before the eighth is finally published! But no matter. My only fear is that I expire before I get to read them all! None of them are slim volumes.

I have referred to the lack of my reviews for Book One and I did hesitate about offering my opinions on this one. And the reason is that in many ways the whole cycle is one, single book and maybe should be viewed and reviewed as such. It would be amusing to see the whole lot published as one HUGE volume!! I wouldn’t relish carrying that around with me. :-)

But I’ve reviewed this one in case I don’t last long enough to read them all. Pessimistic? Moi?

Saturday, 23 July 2016

The Shadow Hour - Kate Riordan

If your name is Kate…….

What is it with me? If a writer’s name is Kate then it seems I am a fan. Kate Atkinson, Kate Morton, Kate Mosse, Kate Summerscale and ….. Kate Riordan.

I enjoyed Birdcage Walk, I loved The Girl in the Photograph and I think this most recent offering, The Shadow Hour, is wonderful. What is so delightful to me is to see how a writer develops and matures with each book they produce. How they refine and define their art is so satisfying. In my opinion each of Kate Riordan’s books is better than the last.

This current tale, like the Girl in the Photograph, claims an old house as an additional and prominent character but here the atmosphere and description offer that little bit deeper sense of events from the past defining the present. It’s as if the house has its own personality.

The atmosphere of the period is beautifully created and sustained throughout. The research is thorough and seamless. There is no sense or desire on the part of the writer to push the fruits of their research at the reader as can so often happen. It’s intrinsic to the story. Whereas in The Girl in the Photograph we seemed to walk alongside the house, here we are invited into its depths to experience the very essence of Fenix House and feel what Harriet and Grace are feeling.

For the most part the plot is well structured if not a little too convoluted. There was a development towards the end that would not have lessened the impact of the story had it been omitted. It clouded things a little for me. But that is my sole niggle.

The characters are real and not just there as plot devices. You feel like you get to know them all, young and old, rich and poor, servant and master, goodies and baddies.

Any preconceived comparisons are dealt with effectively with a lovely, literary allusion. (Can’t divulge as I won’t do spoilers).
These aspects convince me that ee have a writer who cares about her work and her readers. One of those mutually beneficial relationships that is not always there in contemporary fiction.

There are no real page turning, cliffhangers, rather some gasps and surprises in parts fully in keeping with the mood evoked as the story unfolds.

I couldn’t put it down, I wanted to read on and it was one of the books where you feel sad when it ends and that’s exactly how I felt about the Girl in the Photograph too.

I hoe Kate Riordan is writing another book as we speak because it wont be a moment too soon!!

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Divergent - Veronica Roth

Katniss Everdeen Has a Twin Sister

I may be drawing a pension but that doesn’t stop me browsing the YA sections of libraries and bookshops. It might be because I’ve never properly grown up? Good. Because that means I get to enjoy the wealth of what I like to call ‘Dystopic’ fiction and there seems to be an abundance.

I loved The Hunger Games trilogy, the Maze Runner series and, lesser lauded perhaps, Lauren Oliver’s Delirium collection. If Orwell were alive today he might well be giving a nod of approval with Huxley offering a thumbs up too.

So what is it that appeals? Objectively I can see exactly how these books capture the imaginations of younger readers. Buy why does an old fart like me find them so compelling, absorbing every word?

Divergent is the first in the series (Don’t worry I have the next ready and waiting!). Technically it’s a competent piece of work, well structured for its intended audience, a well developed plot that is convincing, characters who we love and admire and those who we contemptuously loathe. The themes are there to satisfy the contemporary teenager who will find much to identify with no matter that we are in a world of the future. The human condition snd frailties endure throughout it seems. (Maybe thats what appeals to me?). The technical and almost but not quite sci fi aspects of the narrative extract admiration for the sheer ingenuity and imagination whilst remaining curiously plausible.

There is an underlying morality here throughout; within the factions created for each person to live in and adhering to the principles of that faction, that choice made at sixteen years of age, and the choices and decisions made by the characters within their daily lives.It will be interesting to see how that is developed within the whole series.

I think the writer understand youngsters well, understands the way the developing adolescent brain reacts and interacts. I think that goes a long way to rendering the fiction so credible.

But I still don’t understand why t holds such appeal for me? Ah well, no point dwelling on it. I’m off to watch the movie now! ;-)

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Close Encounters of the Furred Kind - Tom Cox

From the Heart

I’ve had the privilege to share my life with many wonderful and beautiful cats who have filled my heart to the brim and left me broken by their departures. And so I’m going to dedicate this review to all of them  - jealous Whisky, noble Peter, affable Sam, skittish Bonnie, placid Coriander, dignified Laurence, anxious Kizzy, stray Ooshmi Two Shoes, sweet, sweet Charlie and my beautiful, regal Puzzle who so looks like the Bear every time I see a picture!! (And not to forget Puzzle's daughters, Agador Spartacus, Azriel and Ginola who I loved too)

For social media friendly, cat lovers Tom Cox and his wonderful cats are no strangers. But for those who care not to explore Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other such sites Tom’s books allow you to enjoy his feline anecdotes. Refreshing too is how natural the portrayal of these cats is - a stark contrast to the distressing exploitation of the other ‘internet cat’, poor Tardar Sauce aka Grumpy Cat. How I wish I could spirit that poor cat up and give her a natural feline life. You never get such a feeling with Tom Cox and his cats - Ralph, Shipley, Roscoe and The Bear. You just know he loves them all and does all he can to offer them fulfilling lives.

And I think the one thing that comes across so solidly is that like all real cat lovers the well being of Mr. Cox’s cats is paramount. and I doubt there’ll be a reader who won’t identify with so many of the situations in this book. The thrust of this book is the trauma that moving house and location poses for the cats and their owner but how ultimately they all are the better for it. Tom Cox understands cats, as much as anyone is allowed to understand a cat!! It shines through here and the sub text shows that his cats know that and respect him for it, as much as a cat respects anyone!! 

I laughed and I cried in equal measure when I read this book and it enabled me to vicariously enjoy the company of cats which I suppose I prefer to humans. Sorry!! But there it is. 

So if you are a cat lover you will enjoy this book. And if f you aren’t the reading of it might just ‘turn’ you!

Monday, 11 July 2016

300 Days of Sun - Deborah Lawrenson

Multitasking Trauma

This novel is set in Portugal. I visited Portugal just the once.  All I saw of Faro was the airport. I holidayed in the Algarve. I didn’t see a lot of it, it wasn’t that kind of vacation, ;-) but I do remember how hot it was and how sunny it seemed and the rich descriptions in this book did confirm my memories of the area.

This is a competent piece of writing from a confident and experienced novelist who knows how to work and manipulate her readers. There is little to complain of! It’s a satisfying, well constructed story. The historical research is plausible and convincing. The characters don’t leap off the page at you, they are functional rather than three dimensional but they work. A palpable mood is created as the novel progresses. The storyline increases in predictability until about ten minutes from the end when it briefly becomes a page turner with a denouement I wasn’t expecting and loved it all the more for that!

However, (there had to be a however didn’t there?!) my biggest gripe, and I will throw my hands up and say it may be purely subjective, was the structure of the story which was a book within a book method.

I had engaged with what I will call the main story and then a further narrative was introduced in the form of another book. So the reader is forced into a situation of having to read two books concurrently. I am not the world’s greatest multi tasker and whilst I sometimes have more than one book on the go at the same time I am NOT trying to read them at the same time. So I found the second narrative, crucial though it was to the storyline as a whole, irritating and intrusive. I wanted to get back to the main story. 

There are many ways of structuring a novel and for me this device didn’t work. I would have preferred the unfolding of the second story to have been inclusive within the main story. But that’s just me maybe. If the thought of that doesn’t bother you then you’ll surely enjoy this book and it makes for a great summer read. If we ever get a summer that is. Or…… you could holiday in the Algarve and take a copy with you?!

I received a copy of this book from Breakaway Reviewers

Friday, 8 July 2016

Spider 2-3 - Robert Vallier

 21st Century Boys’ Own for Grownups

This is an entertaining debut novel. I imagine there must have been a deep feeling of satisfaction upon completion of this work. It is a substantial piece for a debut novel. And I love debut novels. They can be the proverbial Pandora’s Box; a promise of better things to come? Or simply that one book we are all supposed to have within us? 

And this has all the hallmarks of a debut novel. The motivation of an author always interests me and never more so than the debut novel. Is it written to satisfy a need within the writer? Or is it written to satisfy the reader? Hopefully a bit of both. The debut novel usually contains an abundance of detail, an enthusiasm and exuberance of language and it seems, sometimes, that everything but the kitchen sink is thrown at the reader so keen is the writer to showcase their talent. This book is no exception. The descriptions are rich, precise and detailed.  The plot is complex and keeps you on your toes. Careful, precise reading is required to stay on top of the developments. The characters are functional but what drives the novel forward, for me, is the action. Paying homage maybe to Ian Fleming and Alistair MacClean with a little Le Carre throw in for good measure the story hurtles itself forward.

At the risk of offending the sensibilities of the politically correct, and I apologise if I do,  I will stick my neck and say that this book is probably one for the boys. If a protagonist has a gun the type and the make of the gun means nothing to me. He’s got a gun and if he uses it, it can injure and kill. It’s ‘just’ a gun!! Similarly the makes and models of other weaponry and equipment, large and small was lost on me. A helicopter is a helicopter,and a plane is a plane!!  I do appreciate the shock waves of derision that my ignorance may provoke!! But I am nothing if not fair. And I think the gender balance may have occurred to this considerate writer for there is a female protagonist to try and redress the balance and this works in part but the predominate action seems to be mostly male.

Something that struck me throughout the entire book was how visual the story was. There were times when I thought I was reading text for a movie story board, the details were very visual in their precision. And I can see this translating very well to the large or small screen. In fact I’ve already partly cast it in my head!! I am sure it would make a good action feature movie or a TV series.

Other reviewers have cited the novel as a page turner that they couldn’t put down. I can’t say that I found that for myself, hence just the fours stars, but I definitely enjoyed it. I am full of admiration for this debut and it is clear that Jim Peregrine , or JP (not to be confused with the Jack Whitehall character in Fresh Meat!) as he is known, will return in a second adventure. 

I received a copy of this book from Breakaway Reviewers.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Blood Wedding - Pierre LeMaitre

I remember seeing a film way back in the 70s by Claude Chabrol called Blood Wedding, the title was  later changed to Wedding of the Blood possibly because of the play by Federico Garcia Lorca? Naturally the title of this book, received from Real Readers, brought to mind that film. It is also a thriller but there the similarity ends.

As I began to read the opening sentences my heart sank a little as it was clearly a translation and no matter how skilful the translator is I feel that linguistically something is lost. But a few sentences more and I’d forgotten all about translations!

This book really should be accompanied by a strong warning. Unplug the phone, cancel all appointments and arrangements for you will not want to put this book down. It is a very dark, uncompromising tale which will not leave you uplifted in any way. But it is extraordinarily compelling. 

Like a coiled spring the tension unwinds relentlessly and tantalisingly. Psychological thrillers are very much in vogue but I will stick my neck out and say that this is one of the better ones. There are shades of Before I Sleep brought to mind but there is little time to focus on anything other than the writing so fast is the pace of this story.

It’s a multi styled narrative from the perspectives of the two main characters written as a direct third person narrative and also a first person diary narrative. Both work and serve to show the distinction between the two characters. 

The plot is watertight, flawless almost, and is a powerful study of revenge, obsession, control and paranoia.Arranged into three parts which parallel the three phases of the story, it’s a sound structure that works well. The characters are delicious in their deviousness!! And we, the reader, are manipulated into this dichotomous power struggle.

Move over Nordic crime! Here comes Gallic crime! And I for one cannot wait for more. 

Friday, 17 June 2016

The Lake House - Kate Morton

I’ve read all of Kate Morton’s books. I love the way they take me into a world and lifestyle I’ve never known with a satisfying juxtaposition of the tranquility of surroundings and environment and the unsettling. sometimes, violent events.

And I did enjoy this recent novel. But a disturbing thought has wormed its way into my consciousness with this book. It was as if I had already read it, I knew what was going to happen despite the  numerous red herrings trying to lead me down the wrong path. And I wondered why. Has Ms. Morton lot her touch? But I don’t think it is that at all. I think it may be that in a sense familiarity breeds contempt. 

It strikes me that, because I enjoy these books so much and the writer’s style resonates with me so well that I am in tune with the way Kate Morton’s fiction mind works that there’s nothing new for me anymore. I think the way she thinks!! If this was the first Morton book I had read I would probably be ecstatically extolling its many virtues. 

So now I’m trying to think whether the same experience has happened to any of my other favourite writers.  I’m thinking first of Donna Tartt because I just loved The Goldfinch, I was less enthusiastic about The Secret History and The Little Friend but was it because I had adjusted to Tartt’s style.
Don’t get me wrong I thought all the books were fabulous and I can’t wait for either her or Kate Morton to write another and I’ll read them but this experience has raised questions about a response to a favourite writer.

But, back to The Lake House. As always it has a carefully and well structured plot with the familiar themes of love and passion, secret and mysteries. The characters are well drawn, familiar, as they possess all the flaws and weaknesses we see in ourselves as well as the strengths that carry us through the challenges the world throws at us. Compassion is a key theme in this book too. I enjoyed the parallels between the two stories, the contemporary one and the historical one. I think it was overlong and that might be off-putting to some readers.

But I will await Kate Morton’s next book with interest and see how I feel about that!! Watch this space. :-D

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Shadowed - Karen E Olson

You know what? I don't care whether this is a well written book or not. I'm not bothered if the plot structure is sound. I couldn't give two hoots if the characters are engaging and not one dimensional. None of that matters because I just really enjoyed this book and didn’t want to put it down. A story such as this strips me of my critical faculties because it just picked me up and carried me along gently dropping me when it was done.
Granted I never go online any more without metaphorically looking over my shoulder but maybe that's not a bad thing?

And the main character, a computer hacker on the run big time, is compelling yet human and very convincing. This is apparently the second in the series featuring her. Not sure what to call her as identity is a key theme in the book. The suspense is sustained pretty much throughout, a techno thriller, do we have a new genre hatching?

Loads of action, physical and cerebral. You might figure things out, you might not. I did, and then again I didn't!  It's that sort of book. The final denouement is possibly a little bit cheesy but it works here. And it’s a peculiar paradox because you could see it coming but then again you couldn't. I'm not making much sense am I? Go and read the book then, you might see what I mean.

If this book has something to say it is that the cyber world can be a scary place but I think we all knew that anyway didn't we? And it raises interesting considerations about how possible it is to try and remain incognito indefinitely in this big brother computer ‘smart’ world?

I received an e book copy of this to review from Breakaway Reviewers

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Without Trace - Simon Booker

This leaves a very big trace!!

The first thing that attracted me to this book was the location. I used to visit Dungeness and Romney Marsh when I was a kid and I loved how bleak and desolate it appeared to be. The idea of living on the beach was so appealing that my parents had to drag me away sometimes. In later years I also had the amazing good fortune to visit a Martello Tower which is described here too. And the entire mood of those visits was captured here from someone, I suspect, who loves the place too. So from the start there was much to endear me to this novel.

But I’m not here to reminisce about my childhood haunts!  For me this book was a slow burner, building up very nicely until I just couldn’t put it down. There are so many red herrings you could open a stall at Billingsgate and I just never second guessed any of them!! Now that makes me mad!! Why? ‘Cause I’m a smartass who likes to think they know their way around a crime novel! BUT it also makes me jump for joy because it means the writer has a imaginative brain and isn’t afraid to use it!!
To a certain extent I would say some of this story is contrived but intelligently contrived so it didn’t grate. It was a fine line between four and five stars and I deferred to four because of this and the slowish start. The tension was palpable. It was contemporary, well plotted and the main character, Morgan Vine was real, flawed and vulnerable as we all are, but tenacious too and all the more a heroine to me, because of it. The book gives us two stories, Morgan the adult now and Morgan as an adolescent. The two work well in tandem and fuel the psychological aspects of the tale and inform our perceptions and understanding of her current situation. All the ends are tied up and the two tales dovetail into a satisfactory conclusion. 

This is a debut novel but a little research showed me that this author is an experienced writer and screen writer and this is evident in this first psychological thriller. I hope he decides that Ms. Vine is worth at least another outing although I’m not sure where he could take her. But I’ll throw it down as a challenge, Mr. Booker. Please?

I received this as an ebook from Breakaway Reviewers to read and review hence the reference to a star rating. 

Monday, 30 May 2016

The Girl In The Spider's Web - David Lagercrantz

The Reviewer In The Spider’s Web

You know I do understand why this book was written. …… I think. When I was younger I can remember how bereft I felt at the conclusion of a book I really loved. There were times when I simply returned to the beginning and read it all over again so loathe was I to leave the world I had been fortunate enough to enter. So I get that feeling of wanting to keep hold of Lisbeth Salander. For weeks after I finished the Millennium Trilogy I used to ask myself, ‘What would Lisbeth Salander do?’ when I found myself in challenging situations. May I stress that I didn’t do what Lisbeth might have done but there was a comfort in thinking it!

So you would think I’d be ecstatic about another ‘Girl…..’ novel, wouldn’t you? Well I was, I am, I mean I think so, its just that - Stieg didn’t write it. So I had such a strong sense that I wasn’t reading about Stieg’s Lisbeth, I was reading about Lagercrantz’s Lisbeth and they are two different people. Mr. Lagercrantz has done his homework, the physical descriptions are spot on, the actions, the reactions, the interactions are pure Salander but ……… the essence of her isn’t truly there.

Can I say the same of Mikael Blomqvist? He was always a little one dimensional to me but I always figured he was supposed to be, the most perfect foil for Lisbeth. The Yin and Yang of Nordic crime.

So what do we really have here? On the one hand we have a cracking good crime thriller. An intricate plot full of technical cyber knowledge much of which went over my head. A journalist, a hacker, the police, all up against an unknown enemy dealing in  uncompromising violence. So objectively it’s a great read, five stars.

But if you can write a story this good why capitalise on characters who already exist? And maybe the answer to that question lies in the premise of my opening paragraph? May David Lagercrantz just loved the characters so much he wanted them to go on.

I wonder what Lisbeth Salander would have written if she been required to write a review of this book? Easy. She wouldn’t!!!

Friday, 27 May 2016

Splinter The Silence - Val McDermid

I think I'm a little in love with both Tony Hill and Carol Jordan. Make of that what you will, I don't
much care! I've loved them since The Mermaids Singing in 1995, over twenty years now. I think I
know them well. But the downside for book reviewing is that it may make me less than objective.
It's like when you have a really comfy pair of slippers, they are threadbare in places and there
might be a hole developing on the sole but they really are so comfortable they simply cannot be

This novel seems more about relationships than crime although a crime is solved but it seemed
secondary to me. That might put readers off if you're looking purely for a crime novel.
But on a broader level it does work for a possibly biased me! I think I've read nearly all McDermid's
work from the Lindsay Gordon series through to this recent novel. And I so admire how this writer
has moved effortlessly with the times. Taking on board developments in forensics and police
procedures but also embracing wholeheartedly the digital age and allowing the fictions to be driven
forward on a cyber wave.

An interesting aside here which I found quite spooky was that prior to reading this book I had just
read a copy of Lindy West's Shrill which also deals with social media trolls.

So is this a book 'just' for the fans? Maybe. But I defy anyone who enjoys a good thriller not to be
absorbed by the actual crime; the genesis, the execution, the M.O., even if you aren't captured by
the Hill/Jordan relationship and those of other members of the 'team'.

Val McDermid is a master of her art and I will continue to read anything she writes. Even a cereal

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Shrill - Lindy West

You Don’t Have To Be………

……..American to read this book but it is an advantage as the impact of some of the cultural references and names were lost on me. And I am someone who loves baseball and root beer and I can sing The Star Spangled Banner better than my own National Anthem! In fact I think I might have been an American in a previous life! But maybe past lives can’t prepare you for contemporary cyber America. And are things any different in the UK?

I doubt that this is a book I would have picked to read had not Real Readers sent me a copy to review but I am glad I have read it for it will stay with me for a long time. I cannot remember the last time I laughed so much I was unable to continue reading. I can still chuckle to myself as I remember those phrases that made me laugh. Equally it’s been a while since a book made me think as much as this one has and I confess to shedding a tear or two for the aggressive ignorance of so many people who lack the courage to do anything but hide behind the anonymity of the Internet. I loathe the term ‘trolls’ to describe these people but an accurate description probably contravenes any censorship laws. (I had toy trolls when I was a kid, with long hair and kindly faces. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld trolls aren’t threatening at all. )

This book is an often uncomfortable read. It can be seen as one woman’ monologue, a diatribe against prejudice and injustice amongst other things but it is also an autobiography of honesty and humanity. It may upset some peoples’ sensibilities for it is frank. Labelled as a ‘feminist;’ book I think it can be appreciated on wider levels.

Lindy West is a brave, brave woman who should never be defined by her physicality but by her wit and her intellect and the way that, as a wordsmith, she can combine those two qualities.