Monday, 24 September 2018

The Twisted Tree by Rachel Burge

          I just checked the page count for this book (304) but it really felt much, much shorter than that.  I raced through this book in one sitting and didn't so much read it as inhale it.

It is a strange mixture of mythologies - you have the Three Fates from Greek/Roman myth contrasted with Odin, Hel and the fearsome Draugr from Nordic myth.  This led me to some minor mind wanderings whilst reading - having recently watched Thor:Ragnarok I couldn't help but see Cate Blanchett as Hel and Anthony Hopkins as Odin couple that with trying to remember the Greek Names for the fates (Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos) via Stephen King's book Insomnia I did have a lot of mental distraction.

Fortunately, the tale is swift moving and sucks you in to that claustrophobic cabin in Skejbne.  The setting is so evocative you can feel the darkness of winter and the swirl of the snow accompanied by the skirl of the wind and the bone chilling howl of the draugr.  The plot is excitingly supernatural and woven in such a way that it appears almost plausible, not once did I feel like there was a leap of faith taken that did not fit with the characters of Martha and Stig and their situation.  Yes, it could have been Cabin Fever but somehow I don't think any of it was a hallucination.

The characters are wonderfully written and have wonderfully complex layers to them.  Martha with her newly found talent for "reading" clothing and struggling to come to terms with her facial deformity that seems to have led to the ability forming.  Stig, running from an unhappy home life and battling with a burgeoning addiction to alcohol (judging from the amount of Brandy he seems to drink).  Both of them brought together by the shared grief of losing a family member - Martha's Mormor and Stig's father.

This is a Hot Key Books publication which means it is aimed at a Young Adult (I loathe that term SO much) audience.  However, do not be misled this a creepy and tense novel that will give an inordinate amount of pleasure to anyone who enjoys a good old-fashioned tale of the supernatural.  It has everything - ghosts, demons, ancient Gods and a promise made a millennia ago that cannot be broken - DELICIOUS!

This review is based on the E-Book version

A House Of Ghosts by W. C, Ryan

          First off I have to mention the binding of the hardback version of this book - it is quite simply exquisite.  No slipcover, just a relief cover on black with golden imagery and stark white text.  The book feels luscious in your hands as you read (I found myself stroking it rather reverently) and really stands out on your bookshelf.  However, I am here to review the contents of the pages themselves and not their presentation.

The story itself is a rather peculiar mix of the supernatural and a World War I tale of military espionage.  Strange bedfellows when you stop to think about it but somehow the author contrives to meld the disparate tales in to a whole.  Sadly, for this reader, it was not a particularly interesting whole.  I can't help feeling that it suffered from the juxtaposition of the two themes and settling on one would have made it a more cohesive read.  This is a shame as the opening chapters have real promise and drew me in to author's world quite successfully; it just couldn't hold me there.

The plotting is quite straightforward and follows a mostly linear path so you never feel like you know more or less than the characters.  That is another problem, I never felt like I got under the skin of the main protagonists Kate Cartwright and Hector Donovan.  Donovan is clearly a complex man - an Irishman who fought for the English at a time when the animosity between the two nations was perhaps at its highest and before Eire received it's independence.  He is also a bit of a "fixer" for the military - to be honest he reminded me of John Cusack's character in Grosse Pointe Blank.  Other than that we know little about him, except for his experiences in the trenches.  Kate Cartwright is a clearly intelligent upper middle class (if not even minor aristocracy) woman who worked in code rooms for the military.  Apart from her propensity for breaking engagements off and mourning her "missing presumed dead" brother we never really get to know much about her - apart from the fact she knows how to handle a firearm and does not cave under pressure; oh and she sees ghosts.

That last bit is important as the Abbey is full of them stretching back centuries.  Lord Highmount is hosting a rather dubious Country House Weekend at the Abbey and Donovan and Cartwright are "advised" to attend by the mysterious C, a man who can only be thought of as their Handler.  Munitions plans from Lord Highmount's factory have found their way to Berlin and it is up to the intrepid twosome to discover which of the house guests is responsible.  However, Lord and Lady Highmount just want to make contact with their sons who both died in service to their country.

You can see how it all becomes rather muddled and one storyline trips over the other.  To be honest I think I would have preferred a straight espionage tale and could have happily left the ghostly side of things to one side.


Sunday, 23 September 2018

The Corset by Laura Purcell

This is an attempt at a novel in the grand Gothic, Victorian style.  That touch of mystery, the daring twist to the end, a glimpse of the unfortunate poor and grisly death backdropped against Society.  Sadly, it didn't quite pull it off.  All the ingredients are there but I found the links between the potentially supernatural nature of the deaths and the more logical causes (diptheria, arsenic poisoning) to be overlaboured and somewhat distracting.  Maybe this says more about my interests than I would like - after all recognising the signs of Arsenic poisoning doesn't speak to a balanced mind I suppose.

My biggest issue with the book is Dorothea Truelove.  I don't mind that she believes in Phrenology, that she believes it is the true denoter of our personalities and that the shape of our skull can be changed by "good works".  No, what I could not bear about her was her sanctimonious outlook on others.  She is an odious, spoilt child who although "five and twenty" behaves in a far younger manner and seems to believe that only she can be correct in any situation and that she is "owed" the truth and obeisance from others.

Maybe this was a deliberate ploy by the author to better highlight Ruth Butterham.  I found her character to be far more realistic.  Touchingly naive and trusting but with a backbone forged from true steel to endure the loss of her family and the tragedies of Mrs Metyard's.  Ruth's confusion about her situation and her honest belief that she could somehow weave emotion in to her sewing was beautifully constructed and you were left feeling as though this was a real person telling you her tale.

Unfortunately, the other characters in the book are all a little two dimensional and sadly predictable.  The one exception being the charismatic Billy Rooney - but in the end even he falls into a disappointing morass of predictability.  The other girls in Metyard's sewing room are purely there as foils to Ruth's innocence and are cliches of Dickensian characters (the cruel and selfish Daisy and Ivy, the timid Nell and the dreamer that is Mim).

I sort of liked the book but I really didn't love it.  I wanted to as a good Gothic tale is a wonderful joy to be savoured.  Regrettably, there was not over much to savour here for this reader.  It passed the time well enough and there was some good writing, I just found the scenarios and the people stretched too finely upon their frame.


The Wisdom Of Sally Red Shoes by Ruth Hogan

3.5 Stars

This is a book about death.  Sounds a little bit off-putting when you put it like that I suppose, but there's no getting away from it.  With chunks set in a local Victorian Cemetery (which I have to admit sounds absolutely glorious and the sort of place I can imagine wandering around) and Masha's preoccupation with drowning there really is no getting away from it.  This does not make it a gloomy book, or a Gothic Fantasy, it is actually quite a redemptive book with an overriding moral that life is for the living and to not do so is somehow cheating the memory of those that have gone before.

What spoilt the book for me was Alice, it was so painfully obvious almost from the start how that one was going to work out.  Once she got sick I knew what her role in the book was and how Mattie and her fitted in to the story - after all they are unknown to Masha and never meet her so why would they be there?  Knowing this so early on did spoil the book slightly for me but I cannot over a better explanation for how to weave that particular story thread in.  I was also a little annoyed at the relentless optimism and cheeriness of Sally Red Shoes herself and Kitty Muriel - somehow it felt forced and unrealistic.

Masha was a beautifully complex character and I did find myself myself willing her out of her pit of despair.  For her to start living instead of existing.  The way this is achieved is by hard work on Masha's part, there is no quick fix or revelatory moment that wipes her grief away.  Instead she becomes aware of the awkwardness her overbearing grief is creating for others, how her closest friends and family are still treading carefully around her as though Gabriel has only been dead months rather than years.  Watching her blossom and develop is wonderful and any character that can call her car Edith Piaf has to be okay by me.

Overall a solid tale that is all about people rather than plot.  Well executed but just not quite right for this reader.

The Lemon Tree Cafe by Cathy Bramley

There was much about this book that should have annoyed me, lots of things that just didn't add up when exposed to rational thought but somehow the author overcame my objections and made me fall in love with Rosie and her family.  I have a tendency to get annoyed with pro-feminist characters as they are always written as self-righteous and a bit screechy (probably because all the ardent feminists I've met in real life are both these things) and there is a bit of that with Rosie.  She jumps to knee jerk conclusions but at least she has the courage to admit when she gets something wrong, she also admits to being a little bit self-absorbed which is unusual in this genre - usually our heroine can do no worng.  The business side of things is more than a little cringeworthy as much is glossed over - for instance, we never find out how she wriggles out of the tax situation, it just disappears.  In fact there are a lot of little things that just seem to resolve themselves quietly in the background with no explanation.

Somehow though I found myself overlooking the inconsistencies and the threads picked up and left dangling with no resolution and thoroughly enjoying myself.  So much so I was perilously close to being late for work thanks to the "just one more chapter" syndrome.  I do love a good rom-com novel and there is romance and comedy in abundance in this book and I found myself being drawn further and further in to this world and even though Nonna's big reveal was no such thing (fairly clear what that was going to be from the outset really) it was more fully fleshed than I anticipated.

The family dynamics in the book are realistic and made for fun reading - no family is perfect and no family life runs smoothly and this is very true here.  No big misunderstandings between characters just the normal, every day niggles that get blown out of all proportion when you know people so well.  This is probably the best bit of the book, the characters - every person in the book is distinct and a whole person no matter how little time we have to get to know them and how peripheral they are to the plot.

This is a decadent read because it will lead you to miss doing the laundry, make you ring out for takeout because you forgot to cook anything for dinner, make you miss your stop on the commute.  Fun and joyous and whilst I didn't laugh out loud I did smile an awful lot and that just can't be bad.

Dying By The Hour by Kory M Shrum

This is my second read through of the book and although certain scenes had stuck with me (particularly the denouement in the corn field) I was not too surprised that I remembered little of the book.  What did surprise me was how much I thoroughly enjoyed the tale - I remember leaving the series right around now feeling unsatisfied by the books and have to now admit how wrong I was about that.  Maybe I am just a little more ready to embrace Urban Fantasy now than I was back in 2015, who knows?

Jesse is still a fully infuriating character though and I am pretty sure I would give her a wide berth in real life.  She seems to be completely unaware of the emotions and feelings of others and yet obsesses over Lane and Ally continually.  That said the descriptions of her interactions with Caldwell and the hallucinatory Gabriel are  well grounded and do make me warm to her a little bit.  Ally is still my favourite character though, even if she is a bit of a doormat.

The tension ebbs and flows through the book and you do get chance to draw breath between each encounter with The Church and it's acolytes.  This book is really all about the action though and although there is some fleshing out of the characters it is still the plot that takes centre stage.  It is a little more linear this time and less convoluted than in the first book so you don't waste time flicking back a few pages to find out who this person that has suddenly sprung up is.

Thoroughly enjoyable action with a supernatural twist.

The Missing Girls by Carol Wyer

There are shades of The Silence Of The Lambs about this book - and that is not a criticism, honestly.  I think it is the use of a sealed room and night vision goggles with a very odd protagonist who stalks and tortures in the dark that did it for me - Jame Gumb all over it.  To be honest The Silence Of The Lambs is one of those books that has to rank as a favourite because I have read it so often so any comparison to it has to be good.  Don't be misled by this comparison though, The Missing Girls is a long way from Richard Harris's book not only in setting but in tone and ultimate protagonist.

Again, the beauty of the book is in the sheer mundanity and the hard slog of investigating a case.  I love Robyn Carter and her team, we still know so little about Robyn, Anna, Mitz and the satellite to this core triumvirate that they are becoming a little bit of a mystery in and of themselves.  The story is all about the crimes being perpetrated and how the little clues lead to grander thoughts which lead to evidence; when you get a little insight in to one of the characters it is like a little jewel glowing in the detritus (that said I am getting a little irked by the constant references to Robyn's dead partner - but now I know why he has been such a large presence - no I'm not telling READ IT!).

Unusually for the genre, both o paper and on the screen, the usual formula of arrest someone, find out they didn't do it and then arrest the least likely suspect because of a gut feeling and watch them crumble in to full and frank confession under interrogation.  There are plenty of red herrings, false starts and dead ends in the story - not least from the upper echelons of the force who, quite reasonably, want an end to the mystery of the girl in the trunk - as more evidence comes to light it appears she may not be the only one and Robyn's battle to get them to take the possible links to other Missing Girls seriously is well thought out and feels realistic.  The team's frustration seeps of the page and they cover the same ground endlessly, looking for some small thing they missed or that spark of inspiration that will lead them to something that will throw the case wide open.

This is a well thought through book that has plenty of character and wonderfully twisting plot that keeps you reading long after you should be sleeping.  The coverage of online bullying and the sheer nastiness of schooldays is well covered and burns with realism which makes it quite uncomfortable at times.  For me the snatches of investigative procedure just ratchet the tension up as you feel their frustration at having so little to go on and the sonorous tick of the clock wending it's way to another murder - deliciously tense.

I am looking forward to the next in the series which is actually quite unusual for me as I oftentimes find as a series moves on the things that drew me to it in the first place start to fall away and it all becomes a little rote.  Carol Wyer has managed to evade this so far and I hope she continues to do so!

Friday, 14 September 2018

The reunion by Roisin Meaney

3.5 Stars

The Reunion is the story of one family, The Plunketts, really the story of their daughters Caroline and Eleanor and all the "disasters" that befall them between their Leaving Cert years of 1993/1994 and their school reunion in 2015.  Caroline is the "good daughter", works hard at school and appears to have a glittering future and Eleanor is the "black sheep", never quite good enough at school and more interested in her love life with Andrew D'Arcy (yes really, D'Arcy!) than in her education.

I wanted to love this book as much as I have previous Roisin Murphy books but somehow I found it to be particularly hard going for about 60% of the book.  The later sections did redeem the book for me though but I was still left feeling slightly disappointed overall.  Whilst the characters are as rounded as I have come to expect from the author they just felt a little cookie cutter - the mother who is so concerned about appearences she cannot support her daughter after she is assaulted by a local businessman.  The slightly "odd" Aunt who has relocated to England and lives a rather enigmatic life - indeed, we learn little about Florence and she is probably the most interesting character in the whole book.  The woman whose whole life falls apart at the death of her infant daughter and leads her to estrange herself from her friends and, most damningly, her family.  All the way through you know it will all be resolved in the end - May to December relationships for both sisters and all - and it is.

The writing is clear, concise and propels the plot along nicely but there are no surprises here, no real revelations about the characters of the women involved.  All a little flatter than the author's usual output.  I did find myself enjoying the later sections dealing with the older Plunkett sisters and found them both to be, ultimately, empathetic characters.  With the current climate in Eire challenging laws around the right of a woman to choose it was quite a timely read, dealing as it does with ostracism because of pregnancy due to assault, but at least the author never hits you with her own views on the subject, she allows you to make up your own mind just as Caroline makes up hers.

Not a bad book but not one of Ms Meaney's best.

The Darkness Around Her by Neil White

          Sadly there is really little to recommend this book, it follows all the same old tropes that are prevalent in the genre and brings little new to the table.  The damaged maverick is a Criminal Defence Lawyer rather than a policeman and much of the action takes place in the Courtroom but other than that it is pretty much the same old tale.  I was hoping for rather more if I'm being honest.

I suppose it didn't help that when I started reading the book I had recently read an article that queried whether there was a Serial Killer operating along the waterways of Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Yorkshire.  Some shadowy figure that had been steadily travelling the interconnected canals and choosing victims at random.  This is the basis of the book and it takes the premise that 100 deaths and disappearences over a 20 year period is extreme so there has to be an underlying reason - there is, much of the canal banks are not secure and if you slip and fall you are in the water and it doesn't need to be more sinister than that.

Unfortunately for the reader we have a released murderer who was acquitted on appeal and now makes his living rallying against legal injustice.  Nobody thiks he is really innocent, not even the lawyer who got him freed who just so happens to be our heroes boss.  Yeah, you get where this is going - we all get where this is going and unfortunately it does.  There is an attempt at a twist in the tale but unfortunately it is flagged up early on in the book and even though I was only paying partial attention by that point (I lost the will to involve myself myself about quarter of the way through) I did pick up on it.

The Courtroom scenes stretch credulity with evidence being submitted right on the last minute, indeed being submitted minutes after the police have unearthed it (thanks to our intrepid hero and his investigator sidekick) but well before it has been verified.  Honestly, if the legal system really works in that way then we have no hope for true justice.

I can't recommend this book to anyone that reads much in the genre.  If this is your first foray in to crime fiction you may enjoy it but I'd still recommend steering clear if I'm honest.

On A Beautiful Day by Lucy Diamond

3.5 Stars

When four friends meet for lunch, they can't know that they will witness an event that is set to change all their lives.  Sounds a wee bit melodramatic but that is basically what the book boils down to.  Having narrowly avoided being hit by a car whose driver suffers a fatal heart attack at the wheel they each deal with the fall out in their own ways which draws them both closer together and further apart.

The real pleasure of the book is in the minutiae of their lives, the daily grind that has to be dealt with no matter whatever else is going on around them:

Jo - Newly single after her marriage broke down has just met a lovely man but his teenage daughter is another thing altogether.  Is it worth persevering with the relationship in the hope she can make some sort of relationship with an intractable 13 year old?

Laura - Desperate for a child and has suffered through a couple of miscarriages and now everything seems to have stagnated - her marriage and her prospects for a family.

Eve - Absorbed by her job, controlling of her family (after all a thing can only be done properly if you do it yourself) and worried about her health.  Forced to confront her own frailties by a rather New-Age client will this make or break her?

India - Hiding a deep dark secret from her past, the fall out from the accident brings it all rushing back to her.  Unfulfilled in her choice of career she knows she needs to make a change but can she?

The characters are wonderfully complex and at times infuriating and intractable, at others you just wish you had a friend like that.  That is the real heart of the book - not their various problems and challenges but their friendship.  No matter what these 4 women are an incredible support network for each other and have relationships that any woman would envy.

The real issue with the book is the fact that something has to be happening to all of them.  None of the 4 are just breezing through the few months described within these pages.  There is so much drama for each of them it does become a little trying at times.  Yes, we all have those moments in our lives but in any group there is usually at least one person who is coasting along quite nicely whilst everyone else is having a mini-breakdown.

The writing is strong and you do get a sense of each woman's voice as they have not been overpowered by the author.  I just felt that there was too much going on here with too many issues being covered at once - step-parenthood, mortality, childlessness, divorce, major health issues, teen pregnancy and a few others just for good measure.  You do start to feel a little overwhelmed with the sheer depressive nature of modern life at times.  Fortunately Ms Diamond does a deft line in humour so you generally get yanked out of it PDQ.

Bit of a mish mash of a book if I'm being honest but I did quite enjoy reading it.

The Growing Pains Of Jennifer Ebert, Aged 19 Going On 91 by David M. Barnett

Jennifer Ebert is 19 and about to embark on her second year at University, sadly the Halls Of Residence aren't ready and a local Nursing Home has opened it's doors to the students.  It isn't all altruistic though, they can get a nice fat grant for them in the name of bringing the generations together.  Sounds like quite a good premise for a book and, on the whole it is.  However, it is let down by the need to add a mystery in to the mix - honestly, it genuinely spoils the story.

The sections that deal with the personalities of the residents and how they rub up against, and along with, the young students are quite good.  Each person has a distinct personality, voice and back story (admittedly some are a little overblown) and the way they relate to each other can be a joy.  The mystery of who is stealing their prized possessions just hovers there and never really forms properly, leaving you wondering why it's there in the first place.

I was left feeling like I never really got to know anyone in the book and this made it quite difficult to really care about the outcome.  Ringo is too saintly for a 19 year old boy/man, Jennifer is so far up herself she has almost inverted, the residents are all caricatures of old people (Joe who wants to live a youth he never had and indeed tried to, the racist ex-soldier, the evil tempered old woman, the scatty old woman and the glamorous old woman) - telling that I can remember few names only a handful of days (5 if you're counting) since I finished the book.

I marked this down in my notepad as a 3 Star but on reflection I fear that may be a tad generous but I'll stick with it.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

The Cows by Dawn O'Porter

To be entirely honest there are things about this book that I really dislike intently.  However, they are not things that the author has written or dreamt up they are the realities of the world around us.  Mainly the monster that is Social Media and the way it shapes our daily interactions without us really realising it, the way it isolates and vilifies, the encouragement it gives bullies by virtue of the anonymity of it all.  The other thing I cannot abide is Feminism and, ultimately, much of the book is a treatise on feminism - so divisive, we are all human and it doesn't matter if we have an inny or an outty we are all deserving of the same basic levels of respect and care as each other.  The feminism displayed in this book is of the oft-peddled 1960's and 1970's kind that appears to speak to women being somehow superior and it drives me batty.

So why the 4-Stars?

Quite simply I really enjoyed the book. 

I don't get the laugh out loud humour touted in the blurb though; I struggled to raise a wry smile most of the time.  What I did like was the individual voices of the three main characters and their struggles were well told and felt eminently believable for a modern world; even if I did not entirely agree with their actions many times.  It is very much a cautionary tale though, or that could be my inherent cynicism poking through.

The plot is secondary to character development and this works very well here.  In fact, you can almost feel the script for a 3 part Saturday Night Drama or a butchered 90 minute chick flick.  The characters are disparate and somehow the author has given each an individual voice - something that is to be applauded as often the author takes over and it is their voice that colours everything.

Cam is a darling of Social Media, in at the start she makes her living from blogging and does so very well.  She is the link to the other characters as they both visit her blog and through it interact with her.  To be honest her blog is something I would avoid, I have to agree with Stella that it is all a little bit "look how happy I am.  Look how perfect my life is"; in other words all a little bit fake with something controversial thrown in to boost the ratings.  Stella has simply never recovered from the loss of her mother and her twin sister and is in a downward spiral of grief and anguish that leads her to behave in quite unexpected ways (the rationalisation for her actions is actually well thought through and her descent to an emotional hell is well plotted and described).  Tara is in the wrong place, at the wrong time and doing the wrong thing and this throws her life, and the lives of her family, in to complete disorder as she is tried in the Court Of Public Opinion and found Guilty (admittedly what she did is rather unbelievable but it could have been so much worse).

It was a surprisingly intelligent book about modern society and the assumptions we make about others but hate them making about us.  I was expecting this to be far more trite and formulaic and was quite pleasantly surprised - so much so I may even be eagerly awaiting a new novel from Ms O'Porter.

The Beach Cafe by Lucy Diamond

There is a lot about this book that can be easily dismissed as being twee, not necessarily a bad thing depending on what you want from a book.  If you want escapism set amidst beautiful scenery and a tale that jogs along quite merrily on it's own path (even if you can guess where things are going) that will pass a few hours in a reassuring manner then this tweeness will work for you.  I know it did for me.

Evie is a bit of a mess, not happy with her job, not really happy in her relationship, not really fitting in with her family.  All that really makes her happy, it seems, is her relationship with her partners young son.  When her Aunt dies in a car crash she is thrown in to a tail spin of guilt for not keeping in touch better and due to the conflicting emotions of what to do with the Beach Cafe that has been willed to her.  I have to say though that for the purposes of the probate it didn't half shoot through and she was soon in possession of the property - no interminable legal foot-dragging for this family.

Once resigned to the fact the Cafe is hers Evie takes about 50 pages to decide what she is going to do about it - from the title alone we know she's going to keep it.  There are then the set pieces of unwelcoming locals, inept staff, a mysterious man that catches her eye, strangely a homeless girl sleeping in the Cafe doorway and a disastrous weather event just when things are looking up for Evie and her new business.  This what I mean by twee, everything comes out right no matter how dire the situation seems the familiar pattern of the genre is followed.

Fortunately, Ms Diamond has crafted great characters that live and breathe on the page and feel entirely human.  It is the characters that pull you through and even though you know how everything is going to end up you still find yourself leading the cheers for Evie to get her through the latest disaster.  Is it literature - erm, NO.  Is it enjoyable - exceedingly.

Rivers Of London by Ben Aaronovitch

That's The Way To Do It

So said Mr Punch and I am pretty sure the author was listening intently because he has certainly taken those words to heart. 

I purchased this book on sale because I had very few supernatural books in my current "to read" list and I am so glad that I did.  It is a rip-roarer of a tale and I was absorbed from the start - probably because it mixes police procedural (and we already know my penchant for that genre) with the magical world in a manner that can only be called deft.  To be honest I really liked the cover too so that swayed me a little bit.

Peter Grant is an eminently likeable character with a touch of the "ohh shiny" about him; something I can eminently relate too.  His distractable nature proves to be of benefit as a mysterious witness to a dastardly, and very public, murder comes forward and suddenly he is thrust in to a netherworld that he never knew existed.  At least it has saved him from the tedium of driving a desk.  His relationship with Leslie May is a joy of will they won't they proportions and their dialogue and interactions are relaxed on the page with the undercurrents left, mostly, to the reader to divine.

At the risk of alienating people I can't help but relate this to a Harry Potter for a grown up generation.  It has the same mystical world living alongside the depressingly mundane, a bumbling main character that is out of their depth but yet strangely compelling and a mysterious father figure in Thomas Nightingale.  This is NOT a bad thing, except that it leaves you pouting that magic isn't real.

There are several story threads building up here - the slightly dodgy police force, the gruesome murders, Peter's training sessions at the folly, the power struggle between the River Gods and a little dash of romance just to season the cauldron.  The murders may be resolved by the end of the book and a resolution appears to have been found that appeases the God's egos but Gods can be fickle so who can be sure.  Everything else is still a work in progress and I already have the second book queued up and ready to go.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Perfect Ten by Jacqueline Ward

          There was a lot about this book that annoyed me and I will be honest here and say that the only reason I have given this title 2 Stars is for the quality of the writing.  I really appreciated Ms Ward's manipulation of language to build tension and then to dissipate it whilst leaving you interested to find out what is going to happen next.  All this despite the characters being completely unlikable and the plot feeling somehow "fake" - I know that is a strange thing to say about a piece of fiction but I am sure regular readers will understand my meaning.

Alarm bells sounded for for me when I saw the cover splash "For Those Of Us Affected By #MeToo".  This immediately made me uneasy and from reading the story I was right to feel so. 

The basic premise is Caroline takes revenge on her cheating ex-husband Jack by setting out to harass and humiliate all the women that had relationships with him whilst he was married to her.  What she fails to take in to account is that she is doing the same thing when she goes on a bender to her Premier Inn Men and sleeps with a married man - Caroline would have you that this is different as it is a one-night stand and not a relationship like the other women had.  What then evolves is a distasteful story of manipulation, trial by Social Media and the spiralling out of control of a supposedly intelligent women.  Even in it's seeming support of Caroline's viewpoint I felt there was something misogynistic about the whole thing.

I am waiting for the author to tell me I missed the point, that the point is Caroline was wrong to act as she did and that the book was intended as a satire.  Unfortunately, I think it is meant to be taken at face value.


Wednesday, 5 September 2018

The Mum Who'd Had Enough

Oh dear, I think I am becoming more staid and judgmental as I get older - this book really annoyed the heck out of me.  Let's begin with Sinead's list, what a poxy set of excuses for walking away from your marriage; even worse poor Nate believes that they are all true and that everything is his fault.  In fact, we never get to really hear his side of things about the state of their marriage.  What we get is Nate trying to fix things by "working through" the list to become Sinead's idea of a perfect husband.  Yes, marriage isn't easy and it involves a great deal of compromise - something that Sinead seems to expect Nate to do but is not willing to bend on herself.

There is some humour in the book but I found this to be overridden by my active distaste for the basic idea and how unsympathetic a character Sinead is.  Every chapter from her perspective had me gritting my teeth as she launched in to another self-absorbed monologue about how hard it all was having left her husband and son.  Fortunately, Nate was more upbeat, even in his depression there was a whimsy about him that appealed - however, the selling of his record collection was a foolish move and I could have slapped him.

Also his best friend changes name throughout one chapter going from Paolo to Paulo and back to Paolo where he fortunately remained.  Not sure how that got missed by the proofreaders but it did and it annoys.

Normally Ms Gibson's female characters are flawed but fun.  In this case the only one who felt like this was Tanzie and even she was slightly off the mark somehow.  I'm not sure why but I found the whole book to be rather misogynistic with the women no more than caricatures rather than characters.

Not a great read but it struggled to a second star because of the relationship between Nate and his son and the way in which his disability is treated as just part of him and as something that shouldn't stop him in life.  Other than that I found very little to recommend this book.

The House by Simon Lelic

At first you can be forgiven for thinking that this is a supernatural tale, a haunted house; the opening pieces certainly give that impression.  With the first half of the book told in almost journal like entries by the proud owners of this London terrace Jack and Syd as they struggle to come to terms with the strangeness of their new home.  From the thrill of buying the property to the peculiarities of both the neighbourhood and their new home, it soon becomes clear that this is a thriller and a very disturbing one - deliciously so.

Simon Lelic's writing does not disappoint, I found myself becoming rapidly absorbed by these, not altogether likeable, characters.  There is a certain claustrophobia to becoming encaptured by their personalities as they detail what has led them to this point in time; their upbringings, their partnership, the House and that murder.  As things begin to unravel for Jack and Syd it is the little details that become important and just as you think you have a grip of what is happening the tide turns and suddenly nothing is what you thought as you plunge from their carefully crafted explanations of everything that has led to this point into the nightmare that is now and the fall out from the murder.

I was genuinely gripped by this story and although the twist at the end was not really that big a surprise it was the reactions to it that were.  The sense that no matter what they would go on, they would endure, they would start their lives anew.  Masterful story telling that encourages you to switch a few brain cells on and engage with the characters and the scenarios rather than just get dragged along for the ride.

Life's A Beach by Chloe Coles

          Paige Turner (yes, REALLY!) and her best friend Holly are back and this time they have escaped dreary old Greysworth.  It's October half term and they are off to Skegton-On-Sea, maybe not the best time to visit an English seaside resort but this is an opportunity of a life time - they are representing Bennett's Bookshop at the Skegton-On-Sea Book Festival.  What could be better?

Although very short this is a book packed full of humour and a joy not only of life but of books.  Perceived wisdom has it that you should write about what you know and this seems to hold true for Chloe Coles - she loves books and it shows.  Although she would hate me - I dog ear books, I crack their spines, but I love them.  Even worse, I have a major e-reader habit so I don't frequent bookshops more than 5 or 6 times a year.

Like the first in the series this book is narrated by Paige and is full of the little things that are important to a teenage girl.  Getting that perfect selfie, finding the perfect chip shop with the best chips and meeting your hero - even if the hero turns out to be a disappointment you still HAVE to.

Initially I found the character of Lady Minnie to be a disturbing mix of Dame Barbara Cartland (real) and Dame Sally Markham (fictional Little Britain character).  However, as we begin to see more of her through Paige's eyes she becomes less of a caricature (and a monstrous one at that) and more of a clever woman who knows how to market herself and get what she wants.

This is a fun read and even though I am way outside the target audience I genuinely loved it.  A good story should captivate and that is what this one does!


The Saturday Girls by Elizabeth Woodcraft

          3.5 Stars

I was drawn to this book because of the time period it is set in - I wasn't even a twinkle in my mother's eye during the heyday of the Mods and the Rockers but it still feels almost close enough to touch, almost as if I could have been there.  Maybe because my early childhood was set to a backdrop of the Sixties Sounds courtesy of my mum's rather Rocker collection and my dad's rather Mod collection of LPs.

This is really Linda's story and yes, it has a great deal of the coming-of-age saga about it.  However, you are not beat over the head with it and the author allows events to unfold naturally on to the page and the characters are complex and multi-dimensional.  Initially you are lulled in to a sense of a rather mundane tale of two wannabe-Mod girls who are going to get in to trouble with the company they keep; fortunately this is not what you get.

The story itself takes you from the Corn Exchange to the Aldemaston March, stopping off in Paris, Wethersfield Air Force Base and Wormwood Scrubs.  Sandra might only want to get married but Linda wants more from life - she just doesn't know what.  Until that is she meets Sylvie, damaged and ostracised by the community it is Sylvie that provides the perfect foil to Linda's story.

Overall I did enjoy the book, the story moves at a leisurely pace and at times I did find my mind wandering away from what was unfolding there.  The character interactions are, on the whole, believable and I liked the fact it showed a teenage girl as being both politicised and still interested in fashion, struggling to find her place in the world and seeking to find it through knowledge and personal enrichment rather than through a man.

Don't be misled by the cover, this not a World War II saga, although you can be forgiven for believing it to be of that ilk.  It is definitely a saga though and a rather enjoyable one at that and it did leave me wondering exactly what happened to Linda - did she achieve her ambitions?  I certainly hope so!

KILLER T by Robert Muchamore

          This is a near future Science Fiction novel that I found to have a good dollop of the dystopian about it.  It has a little bit everything: plague, zombies, mutants, gangsters and good old societal breakdown.  Doesn't sound exactly a laugh a minute does it?  However, told by Harry and Charlie there is a wit to the narration that sucks you in to their rapidly dissolving world.

From an explosion at a High School, through the world of illegal genetic modifications via gene warfare I could not help but compare the story to The Stand.  I think this was mainly because of it's main setting of Las Vegas and I did keep expecting Randall Flagg to make a cameo appearance.  In some ways this is a compliment to the author as The Stand is one of my all time favourite books and one that I re-read every couple of years.

The characters are well drawn and relatably flawed people who I could not help but empathise with.  From the trials of growing pains to trying to hold their lives together as the world falls apart they make bad decisions and good ones but you still want them to come out on top.  Maybe this is because they both had childhoods marred by loss but maybe it is because they are inherently interesting people.

Spread over several years we get to witness Harry and Charlie grow close, apart and close again against a backdrop of biological warfare which has decimated the world's population.  Throw in some mafia-esque dirty dealing and you end up with a fast paced thrilling ride that I did find hard to put down.


Daisy Belle: Swimming Champion Of The World by Caitlin Davies

This is a beautifully evocative story that encapsulates the determination of one woman from early childhood to become the best swimmer that she can possibly be.  Make no mistake, Daisy Mae Belle is no ordinary Victorian Miss. This is a continuous disappointment to her mother and a source of pride to her father but no matter what they think Daisy knows what she wants and she will stop at nothing to get it.

The real beauty of this story is the way the author transports you to the time and the place.  You can hear the echo of the baths, smell the tang of bleach in the air and feel the silky, still water heavy around you.  Although it feels like a bad pun this is a truly immersive story that sweeps you along as you follow Daisy from trial to trial and grand gala event to treacherous open water swim on to daring high dives.  Interspersed with the minutiae of daily life and the restrictions placed upon her by virtue of her being born female you soon find yourself firmly backing Daisy and feeling her desperation and elation in equal measures.

Based on the real lives of lady Victorian swimmers every daring feat and unbelievable trick (eating and drinking underwater seems particularly bizarre) they are all taken from contemporary reports of the time.  Daisy's feats really happened which makes them all the more extraordinary.

The writing itself is a wonderfully contradictory mix of paucity and richly detailed passages that completely absorbs the reader and brings the whole to life in your heart as well as your head.  It is so skillfully paced that you find yourself racing through eager to find out just what will happen next to our intrepid tadpole and wishing you could reach out and simply touch this exceptional young woman.

I'm not going to tell you of all that Daisy accomplishes, of her failures, of her loves and losses.  What I am going to do is urge you pick up this book.  Clear your schedule, let the dust settle and the laundry remain in the basket, open the pages and allow yourself to be transported to a wonderfully rich Victorian World full of character and bristling with energy.  Then when you surface, brushing the water from your face and slicking your hair back I would encourage you to take the plunge once again, from the beginning and this time savour it - that is what I intend to do.


Shopaholic Ties The Knot by Sophie Kinsella

What is it with Becky Bloomwood and completely unrealistic scenarios?  I desperately want to slap her and bring her screaming in to reality ...