Monday, 11 December 2017

CHERGUI'S CHILD by Jane Riddell

3 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

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

Genre: Family/relationship drama, with themes of extramarial affairs, pregnancy, death, eating disorder.

Chergui's Child is the story of Olivia, whose aunt has just died; to her surprise, she is left a large amount of money in the will.  Olivia is a troubled woman; her relationship with her mother is difficult, to put it mildly, and she has an eating disorder.  Early in the book, she receives a letter that reveals a startling revelation; this sends her on a life-changing journey.

The novel alternates between her present dilemmas, which include her mother contesting the money left by the aunt, and the past, when she was a medical student having an affair with her tutor, Richie, whose wife had her own problems.  I'm a fan of this structure, and in this case the slow building up of the past-that-led-to-the-present made it much more interesting than just a straight story.

Olivia travels to France and to Gibraltar as more revelations provide missing pieces in her life's jigsaw.  Generally, the family dynamics of all characters involved are well drawn.  I did think that, generally, there was too much domestic/conversational minutiae that was not needed for the plot, and slowed it down.  Some of the characters came alive to me (Martin, Richie, Dorothy and Roz), some didn't; alas, for me, Olivia fell in the latter group.  The only emotion I felt towards her was slight irritation at her naïveté; she didn't understand that age-old cliché and truth of the mistress of a married man: that once you become problematic or needy you no longer supply the romantic fantasy, and are, thus, dispensible.  Mostly, I felt no connection with her.

I was a little unsure about the feasibility of some elements: Olivia is told about her inheritance by her own solicitor two days later after her aunt dies, and the funeral is the next day.  In my experience, it takes a couple of days even for the death certificate to come through, funerals take far longer than that to arrange, and I would have thought that Olivia's solicitor would have had to wait for instruction from executors, etc.  Also, in the flashback chapters, a tragic death takes place in Morocco that is central to the plot, but, again, I was unconvinced by some practicalities, and also the subsequent reactions of the character involved.

I liked many parts of this novel, but on the whole, for me, it lacked a spark that would have made it memorable.  But the writing flows well, and I am sure readers who like easy-read, emotional family dramas would enjoy it.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

ON THE EDGE OF A RAINDROP by Sarah Brentyn @SarahBrentyn

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book:  I noticed it was on free promotion, via a tweet.

Genre: Flash and micro fiction, psychological

This collection of pieces was a good choice to read when I woke up today; just right for an hour in bed on Sunday morning.

From the blurb:

These are stories of lives on the edge.

A girl tortured by the world within her. A boy powerless to escape his home. A mother doomed to live with her greatest mistake. A man lost in a maze of grief.

Each raindrop provides a microscopic mirror of ourselves and those around us. But we can’t always trust what we see. The distorted images disorientate the mind, altering our view of reality.

(Please note: I had to change 'disorient' to 'disorientate', because I am English!)

I think I liked the first section, Mindscapes, the best; there are some beautiful and haunting snapshots of subjects' lives, perfectly written and evocative. The metaphors used are well chosen, without over-playing them.  All pieces are on the dark side, which I like. 

As with all collections I had my favourites, but I liked all of them.  Sometimes, I could see a whole life in a paragraph, so insightful and artfully captured are they. I think the collection would be enjoyed by anyone who likes to read poetry, or just admires the well drawn sentence.  It's the first I've read of Sarah Brentyn, and I'd most definitely recommend.  99p or available on Kindle Unlimited.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

THE CHRISTMAS GHOSTS by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book and why I chose it: I have read every single other book by Gemma Lawrence, and have recently rediscovered the appeal of short stories for when you don't have the headspace/time for starting a whole novel!

Genre: Christmas short stories.

This is a collection of five long short stories, all very different. My favourites are Hot Toddy, a beautiful story about a woman of nearly eighty who is visited by someone she loves very much, and the last one, The Christmas Ghosts itself, which is about a young woman who earns money by house-sitting for the wealthy, whilst trying to put together her first novel.  I liked this one because her life appealed to me; the solitude in the lovely house, the beautiful surroundings, the hours and hours of uninterrupted time to write.  I was amused by her rather childlike debut novelist fancies and fantasies, and nodded my head a few times about the difficulty she has in getting her friends and family to take what she is doing seriously.  Oh yes, and the Christmas ghosts themselves.  I can't tell you about them, because that would give away the story, but it's a lovely idea, and something I would adore; a view into the past.

I've only read historical fiction by this author, so it was interesting to see how she fared with contemporary stories, but I am happy to report that, yes, she can do this, too!  Another thing I liked about this collection was that it is not twee or 'heartwarming', as some Christmas stories can be; one of the ghosts is a mangled animal, and another wears a Nirvana hoodie. 😄

Monday, 27 November 2017

A SMALLER COUNTRY by Phillip Tennison

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: Amazon browse.  I downloaded it on Kindle Unlimited.

Genre: Post apocalyptic, Australia.

I fancied a nice end-of-world survival scenario to read, and this was the third I tried of those I've downloaded recently.   The others had the super-duper professional, currently apt covers for the genre, but what was inside didn't live up to them.  This one, with the quieter, more simple cover, kept me reading.

At first I thought it was a novel by someone who just wanted to write all he knows about guns.  There are a LOT of guns in this, and to be frank I skimmed much of the weapons detail because it doesn't interest me and wasn't always needed for the story.  The book starts when John Timms, ex-cop survivalist and hero of the story is some way into life post-virus.  I was disappointed that the whole build-up to the virus and what happened during was dealt with in a matter of two pages, and in the briefest newspaper-style reporting; I nearly abandoned at that point.  But I didn't, and started to realise that the matter-of-fact, spare style of writing suited the mood of the book.  People have lost everything, and are just trying to survive.  Sometimes terrible things happen, and they're numb to them.  

As is usual in 'road trip' stories of this genre, John is trying to get to a place of perceived safety, and meets up with others; in this case, his early companions happen to be two very fit female soldiers; well, the author is male!  But, generally, it's not over-dramatised or Hollywoodised.  A lot of their troubles come from Indonesians, who have paid their life savings to sharks for a passage to Aus, having been told that it's safe there.  The factual detail about survival techniques is clearly well researched and was of interest to me, though I was a bit 'hmm' about where all the fuel came from.  The characters work; the author clearly has that thing-you-can't-learn, ie, being able to write three dimensional characters with very little description.  The one that kept me reading was Rosie, a big, tattooed, hooch-distilling farm guy who feels suited to the new world; he said he wasn't a very good farmer but made a great caveman, or words to that effect. 

The other downside to the book was the punctuation; whoever proofread it needs to learn about vocative commas, as they're aren't any ("What are you doing Abi?" "John can you chuck me a towel?" "I know what you mean Sam").  But it's pretty good.  If you like books of this genre in which the factual stuff seems real, and the characters don't act like King Ezekiel, pre-Saviours slaughter, you'll probably like it.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

RIDING SHOTGUN and other American Cruelties by Andy Rausch

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

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

Genre: crime, murder, dark humour

This is a collection of three novellas, and I enjoyed them all.  I really liked Andy Rausch's writing style, it's right up my street; very current, intelligently witty, sharp and observant.  

The first one is Easy-Peezy, set in 1920/30s America, about Emmet Dalton, a former bank robber of the late 19th century who has hung up his boots and holster, but longs to show young guns like John Dillinger how it's done.  He teams up with a couple of others from the same era and sets off for one last crime spree.  On its own, I'd have given this 4*.

The second, Riding Shotgun, is about a writer who find himself involved in a life of crime after his wife is killed.  I liked this one slightly less, as at times 'darkly humorous' crossed the border into 'just daft', although it was still well-written.  3*.  

The last story, $crilla, is easily the best, I loved it.  Almost totally dialogue, and hilarious, easily 5*.  Two unsuccessful gangsta rappers hatch a plot to extort money from their reluctant producer.  

The language, particularly in the last one, would not suit anyone who finds authentic street talk offensive; if you don't, and can appreciate how well-observed it is, you'll love it.  I felt the influence of certain TV shows and films, throughout, even in some specific lines, but I quite liked that about it.  It's a good collection, professionally presented, and worth getting for the last one alone.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

FOR THE LOVE OF A CHILD by Jenny Twist @JennyTwist1

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I've read quite a few of Jenny Twist's short stories and novellas before, and liked them.

Genre: Short stories, miscellaneous drama.

These five stories are grouped together under the loose theme of mother love, and they are all very different.  Two are flash fiction, one page long each, and I liked both of those.  The others are long-short stories.  The middle one is an amusing fantasy about the possible existence of fairyland (note for author: I liked the last paragraph very much).  The last is the best one, I think, a piece of romantic suspense with the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War; I particularly liked the authenticity of the setting.  The first is about a 1960s mother and baby home, which I was slightly less keen on, as I kept expecting a dark twist that never came.  I am not, of course, criticising the author because she didn't write the story I wanted to read; this is just personal taste, and I am sure many would prefer the more promising outcome.

It's a nice collection for a couple of undemanding hours' reading.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

JONAH by Carl Rackman @CarlRackman

5 GOLD stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book:  I read the author's debut novel, Irex, after chatting to him on Twitter, and thought it was very good indeed, hence the purchase of this one!

Genre: WW2 Naval Thriller 

This book is stunningly good.  I finished it in the early hours of this morning when my eyes were tired and I wanted to go to sleep, because I had to know what happened. 

The blurb (extract):

The North Atlantic, 1940. A British destroyer pounces on a seemingly abandoned U-boat, leading to a spine-chilling encounter.  Five years later, the US Navy destroyer Brownlee grimly prepares to battle a swarm of Japanese kamikazes at Okinawa.

Mitch “Lucky” Kirkham, a young gunner on the Brownlee, wakes up miraculously unscathed after his crewmates are killed in a fearsome kamikaze strike.

Bullied and resented amid accusations of cowardice and worse, Mitch re-boards his patched-up ship for the long voyage back to San Francisco. All he wants is to go home.

But far out in the boundless emptiness of the Pacific, a strange madness begins to seize the sailors on the Brownlee. Terror, hysteria and suicide torment the men amid sightings of ghosts and a terrifying monster that stalks the ship by night.

Jonah ticks every single box.  It's exceptionally well written, interspersed with tales from members of the crew from before the war, relevant to the plot (love little flashbacks like this!).  It's meticulously researched, completely convincing, but Rackman hasn't fallen into the amateur's trap of explaining naval terms to the layman; it is assumed that the reader will gather what they mean, sooner or later, and I did.  There's a glossary at the back, if you need it.

The story is utterly gripping and unpredictable, the sense of menace builds up at just the right pace, and even by the last chapter I had no idea of the outcome (and, indeed, thought it would go another way).  The characterisation is well defined, the dialogue spot on, and it's edited, proofread and formatted to the best of traditional publishing standards.

It's really, really, really good.  You should download it.  Immediately.  Definitely one of the best five books I've read this year.