Saturday, 21 October 2017

BREAKING BONES by Robert White @robwhite247

3 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: It was submitted to Rosie Amber's Book Review Team , of which I am a member.

Blurb extract: 
Inseparable since childhood and feared by their community, Tony, Eddie and Frankie are beyond the reach of justice.  The brutal gang, The Three Dogs, are a law unto themselves. 
Detective Jim Hacker has watched The Dogs grow from thuggish youths to psychotic criminals. He seems to be the only one who wants to see their empire fall.  
Meanwhile Jamie Strange, a young Royal Marine, finds himself embroiled in the lives of The Three Dogs when his girlfriend, Laurie Holland, cuts off their engagement… to be with the most dangerous of The Dogs: Frankie Verdi. 
Jamie vows to save Laurie, before Frankie damns them both.

Robert White is a talented writer, and what I liked most about this book is its authenticity.  It is always clear when a writer truly knows the world and characters he has created; this is no chronicle of inner city crime attempted by a middle class scribe from the suburbs relying on research to produce a lucrative piece of gangster-lit.  The plot is interesting and the novel well structured; White understands the building of suspense and how to keep the reader turning the pages; the pace is perfect, the dialogue realistic, and the characters are all three-dimensional.  I was impressed that he can write convincing women, too.

So why only three stars?  Sadly, Mr White has been let down by his publisher.  The book does not appear to have been either edited or proofread with any kind of professionalism, experience, knowledge or care.  There are numerous punctuation errors on every single page (missing vocative commas is the most common error) as well as typos, spelling mistakes ('hand-full' instead of 'handful', for instance), and missed words.  Sometimes, the lack of punctuation actually changes the meaning of a sentence: 

"He was just asking Eddie," chipped in Tony.  

...which reads as though a third person was just asking Eddie something; in fact, Tony is telling Eddie that the person was 'just asking'.  Thus, the correct version:

"He was just asking, Eddie," chipped in Tony.  

As far as the editing is concerned, there are many instances of exposition, 'telling not showing', and unnecessary or perhaps slightly amateur sentences.  For instance: 'Frankie was the epitome of the Italian gangster caricature.  He hunched his narrow shoulders, tucked in his elbows, palms up.  "Like, y'know...Blondie...Boomtown.".  

Any editor worth their salt would have removed the first sentence; it is 'telling not showing' and superfluous, as Robert White has depicted Frankie's gesture perfectly, without it.  Never mind the lack of spaces before and after the ellipses; they probably should have been commas or full stops, anyway.

In short, the lack of work on this novel turned the reading of it into something of a chore, rather than the enjoyable experience it should (and would) have been, otherwise.  A shame, indeed.

CHIMERA CATALYST by Susan Kuchinskas @susankuchinskas

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie Amber's Review Team, of which I am a member.  I chose it after reading a review of it by another member of the team.

'The planet is getting drier and drier.  In fifty years, it won't be able to support human life - not as you know it' ...

Chimera Catalyst takes place in an unspecified time in the future ~ from the information given, I am guessing around 150 years on.  The world as we know it now is gone, following the Big Change (some apocalyptic climate disaster, I gathered); water is a luxury, seas are brown and murky, weather is punishingly hot.  The gap between the '1 per cent' (the rich) and the poor is vast.  Children are for the rich only; meanwhile, the manipulation of genes and DNA and advanced cosmetic surgery enables the creation of fantasy creatures and beings.  Religion is a mish-mash of science and hippie spiritualism ~ 'mystical neuroscience crap'.

Most of life is lived virtually; following pandemics, people are scared of human interaction.  Food is scarce, the air inhospitable, and life is maintained via cocktails of chemical supplements.

The novel is written from the point of view of The Finder, who searches through data to fulfil his commitments to those willing to pay him the coin.  He has a pet he has made himself; the Parrot, who is actually part parrot, part dog.  The story centres around his search for the mysterious Miraluna Rose, but I found that the plot took second place to the fascinating and convincing picture of life in this future world.  It's very readable and intelligently written, sometimes amusing, sometimes sad.  The Finder, for instance, knows little about human contact, and is baffled by how comforting he finds the ruffling of the Parrot's feathers, or his warmth lying beside him. 

Although the world functions 'normally', I found this more terrifying than any epic about a pandemic or zombie apocalypse, simply because it's what could happen if the world carries on down its path to destruction; it is far more of a living hell than any return to medieval times with no power, etc.  It's a jolly good book and I enjoyed it ~ I hovered between 4 and 5 stars throughout and my only complaint is that I wanted to know what the Big Change was, how it came about, and what happened immediately afterwards.  This is a series; I very much hope it will include a prequel!






Thursday, 12 October 2017

FOR THE THRILL OF IT: Leopold, Loeb and the murder that shocked jazz age Chicago, by Simon Baatz

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: I've always been interested in and had just watched a documentary about this case, so sought it out.


Most people know about Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, two college boys from affluent Chicago families who murdered young Bobby Franks just 'for the thrill of it', to see if they could plan the perfect murder and get away with it.  The fascinating element, I think, is the 'why', and this book gives a detailed background, in which we discover that Leopold was a bright, hardworking but socially inept boy who became infatuated with the feckless, hard drinking, handsome and popular Loeb.  Their relationship appears to have been one of those 'perfect storms', in which the intense, lonely Leopold allowed Loeb to turn his fantasies into reality.  Loeb had been obsessed with detective stories from a young age, and started off his secret criminal career by committing petty vandalism, then discovered that, in Leopold, he'd found the ideal partner with whom to carry out the ultimate crime.

Bobby Franks, the victim.

The background about Leopold and Loeb's personalities was detailed and insightful.  Baatz has provided similar intricate detail about the prosecutor and defender, too; I understand that they are important to the story, as Robert Crowe was determined they should hang, whereas Clarence Darrow was equally determined to save their lives and was fiercely against the death penalty, but I felt that these chapters could have been chopped down a little; I got the impression that Baatz had done months and months of research for this book and was hell bent on including every single bit of it. 

More interesting is William White's analysis of the boys' personalities and fantasies, and how each allowed the other's to take shape.  I felt I learned more key points about them from this shorter section than from the earlier individual histories; it made more sense.


What this book lacked was the atmosphere of the era.  'Jazz age' Chicago is mentioned only in the title; I would have liked to know more about the college life of Loeb and his friends, for instance, to arrive at more of a sense of place and time.  Other reviews have said that it is too much like a newspaper report; I felt that, too.

Near the end of the book is much discussion about Crowe, Darrow and the death penalty, and also an account of how prison life treated Leopold and Loeb.  Loeb was murdered by a fellow inmate in 1935, but Leopold was eventually granted parole in the 1950s.  I found this last chapter most interesting.  The story ends at 72%, and the rest of the book is taken up with an author's note, sources, etc.


Nathan Leopold shortly before his death in 1971

Saturday, 7 October 2017

DONKEY BOY and other stories by Mary Smith @marysmithwriter

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads
 

How I discovered this book: It was submitted to Rosie Amber's Review Team, of which I am a member.  Two years ago I read No More Mulberries by this author, which I liked a lot.

This is an interesting and diverse collection of stories, set in several locations, from Scotland to Pakistan, where the author lived for a while.  Some of them were written as monologues, which have been performed.

I liked those set in Pakistan best, my very favourite being Accidents Happen, about a girl whose mother marries a man she hates.  I liked it so much I read it again, straight away.  I also liked Donkey Boy itself, about a little boy who has to work for his father instead of going to school, and Trouble with Socks, about the sort of ghastly, patronising auxiliary in a care home who thinks that physically disabled means mentally deficient.  The last one, a longer story called The Thing In Your Eye, was interesting.  A woman believes she sees evil in people in their eyes; this left me a little unsure, as I didn't know if we were meant to think it was all in her mind (as everyone else does), or if she really could 'read' people.  

They're all unusual, with a theme of private sadness.  I liked a very short one called My Name is Anya, too, about an Afghani girl adopted by Scottish parents.  They're ideal for a nice bit of lying on the sofa, afternoon reading when you're not in the mood for complicated plots.



Thursday, 5 October 2017

WHISPERS OF A STORM by Anthony Lavisher @alavisher

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: I've got to know the author a little via Twitter and thought I'd like to try one of his books, after reading some good reviews.  This is the first episode of the now complete Storm Trilogy.

The novel is set in the medieval-esque fantasy world of the Four Vales, and follows the story of two main characters: Cassana, a noblewoman, and stonemason Khadazin.  The story contains all the ingredients necessary for an epic fantasy series ~ political intrigue, wrongful imprisonment, conspiracies, dark secrets.  I thought the land of the author's imagination was constructed well; it's all believable, with some original ideas that make this very much his own story.  One element I liked was that his women are certainly not second class citizens; nobleman's daughter Cassana is sent to represent her father in political dealings, and others are military captains and solidiers.  From adolescence, the girls are taught military skills alongside the boys.

I liked reading Khadazin's story best, as I found him the most three dimensional character; I was interested in his backstory and everything that happened to him.  In Cassana's chapters in particular, I found the book a bit on the description-heavy side, with mundane detail that slowed the pace down.  Having said that, this is a novel let down only by the elements that hinder most debuts, and that authors usually 'grow out' of: overly explanatory dialogue, too many adjectives and adverbs, using ten words where five will put the point across with better effect. However, fantasy epics often tend towards flowery prose; one could not accuse GRR Martin, for instance, of writing in a spare fashion.

The characterisation, atmosphere and world-building is very good; some professional TLC would make it as good as it could be and give the punctuation a bit of spit and polish (nb: do bear in mind that I am one of those weirdos who erupts in hives at a misplaced semicolon!).  It's only 99p, and I'm sure that it will tick all the boxes for addicts of this genre.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

HOME TO ROOST by Chauncey Rogers

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: It was submitted to Rosie Amber's Review Team, of which I am a member.

When trying to 'tag' this book for my blog, I wasn't sure under what genre to put it; possibly there should be a new Amazon category for it, called anthropomorphic suspense, or something.  There's a horror aspect too - it gets darker as it goes on.  Okay.  The basics.  It's about chickens, mostly Little Crown, a small black rooster, and how he finds his way in the world (or the coop).  But it's also NOT about chickens, but about social hierarchy and pressure.  Another reviewer labelled it 'Animal Farm meets Watership Down', which sums it up, I think.  

I loved some of the all-too-human observations, like the way in which Long Tail the Father Rooster does not want Little Crown to learn to fight, because he wants to be all powerful, and show to the hens that he can protect them.  And how the chickens think that the Great Yolk (actually the sun, which they consider to be ruler of all things) prizes chickens over other beings, and looks after them first and foremost.  Reminded me of the practice of armies praying to an entity in the sky for victory in battle, with the self-important assumption that such an entity would necessarily favour them over the opposing armies.  

Home to Roost is written mostly from the point of view of Little Crown, and the first half dots back and forth between his very early life, when he was adopted by the daughter of the farmer's daughter, and before and after 'the racoon incident' ~ an attack outlined at the beginning.  Other points of view are from dogs or occasional humans.  It's well-written and clever, but I think it would have worked better without all the to-ing and fro-ing with the timeline, just as a straight narrative; I didn't think going back and forth between time periods added anything to it.  I also thought the whole thing was too long; chopping down by about a third would have given the story more impact.

Little Crown (earlier and later to be known as Brad) gains knowledge about coop life through the somewhat limited guidance of the Mother Hen, faces fear in the form of cats and snakes, experiences love, loss and revenge.  It's good, and interesting; I'd say that it would appeal most to readers interested in sociology and psychology, and people-watching in general.

Monday, 25 September 2017

OATH BREAKER by Shelley Wilson @ShelleyWilson72

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: I know the author from the Twitter writers community but had never read her books.  I had, however, seen a few very good reviews for this one, and decided to cut my YA Fantasy teeth on it.
Please note: I told Shelley that if I found YA werewolves were totally not my thing then I would let her know, rather than write some bullshit half-hearted/dishonest review.  As it happened, although I doubt this will ever become a favourite genre (something to do with being over 40 years older than the target market, I imagine), I thought Oath Breaker was jolly good!

The story starts with motherless Mia's horrible father having been killed by a werewolf, Mia being shipped off with the cold, distant Uncle Sebastian, and madly missing her beloved brother, Zak.  Mia is most surprised to discover that Uncle Sebastian runs a school for werewolf hunters.  Enter evil bitch Felicity, new pals Lizzie and Adam, and a total hottie called Cody who Mia meets when out running a marathon.

She uncovers a truth about the (life and) death of her mother, hears strange rumours about what is really going on at the Hood Academy (and the odd mysterious scream), and know she must take the oath to become a fully-fledged werewolf hunter...

So why did I like this, much to my surprise?  I'm not au fait with the werewolf world (being more of a zombie sort of girl), but I was most interested to find out what it's all about!  Shelley Wilson writes in a great style that's so readable, and the characters all came to life with ease; I wanted to know about them.  Most of all, though, the atmosphere really worked.  There are no great pages of description, but this book is real proof that writing can be descriptive without being chock-full of adjectives and metaphors.  I could feel the still, dense, damp wood where Mia met Cody, see the quiet village with its tea shop, imagine the dark halls of the Hood Academy (not sure if they were meant to be dark, but they felt so to me!).  I wanted to be in the story ~ and any book that provokes that reaction gets a tick v.g from me!

Yes, I liked it.  And I imagine that if I was a YA who was into werewolves, I would LOVE it. 😀



Sunday, 17 September 2017

DO YOU REALIZE? by Kevin Kuhn

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: It was submitted to Rosie Amber's Review Team, of which I am a member.

This is a most unusual and interesting novel, categorised on Amazon under 'metaphysical and visionary', and 'time travel'.

George is your average American middle-aged husband and father, unstimulated by his job, with a marriage that's lost its joy and the usual teenage children angst.  On his morning journeys to work he gets to know the curious Shiloh, who philosophises about life, the universe and everything, and asks him to beta test a new app for an Apple watch.  There is, of course, more to both Shiloh and the app than meet the eye.

Meanwhile, back in his normal life, George struggles with family problems ~ his daughter has a bad car accident, his son is being difficult and secretive, and his job is giving him headaches.  Soon, he realises that Shiloh and his mysterious app are giving him a completely different perspective on life, introducing him to the idea of parallel universes.

I loved the first half of this book.  I really like the author's writing style; George and his family are very real, and the narrative is darkly comic, interesting and highly readable, with lots of popular cultural references; I liked that each chapter has the name of a song.  I also loved the philosophy, ideas and views of Shiloh, many of which echoed my own, though this was not the only reason I was toying with 5* for the book at this stage.  I read the first 50% almost in one go.

The quality of the writing does not falter throughout, but at around 60% my attention started to waver.  Story threads that seemed interesting were quickly resolved and everything was hunky dory in George's world for quite a while - nice for George, and, indeed, this served a purpose for the outcome of the story, but it was not that interesting to read about.  Without giving too much in the way of spoilers, the app means that George relives days in his past life.  He also has vivid dreams.  I thought the dream sequences were far too long, slowing the progress of the story down, and the relived days from the past could have been written more succinctly, especially when a day was lived more than once.  Also, Shiloh's long explanations became longer (or maybe it was just me), and I thought there was too much explanatory dialogue, generally.

In the second half is a tragic episode which I thought was well done; all the threads lead to the outcome, as Shiloh reveals his purpose; sadly, by the end I felt less involved with the story.  The whole idea is a terrific one, and Mr Kuhn clearly has much talent, but I felt that the second half was written less with the reader in mind than the first. 

My overall rating is based on the fact that I'd give the first half 5* and the second half 3*.  It's a good book, and readers who are particularly interested in the metaphysical and visionary will probably enjoy it very much indeed.