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.