Saturday, 18 November 2017

FOR THE LOVE OF A CHILD by Jenny Twist @JennyTwist1

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
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 Amazon.com
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.  



Friday, 10 November 2017

ALL THE TOMORROWS by Nillu Nasser @nillunasser

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 Book Review Team, of which I am a member. 

Genre: Romantic suspense, family drama.


Set in Bombay, the novel starts when Jaya, one year into an arranged marriage, discovers that her idealist, undemonstrative husband, Akash, has a lover.  Criticised by her parents and feeling uncared for, her torment results in a truly shocking action, so stomach-turning I wondered if I could actually carry on reading the book.  Brave of the writer to include it, and that I reacted so strongly shows that it was well-written; I did continue, anyway.

Akash is knocked sideways by Jaya's extreme reaction, and his life takes a swift, sharp turn downwards.  In short, this novel is about a falling apart and slow coming together... several of them.

The first twenty per cent is about Jaya and Akash's younger years and the immediate fall-out of 'the event', after which we are moved swiftly on by being told that 'the years sped by', and suddenly it's twenty years later, when we find out how the characters' lives have fared in the interim, and what happens when they collide once more.

Nillu Nasser is a talented writer, without a doubt.  One of the reasons I chose this is because I like to read about other cultures, and this book taught me stuff I didn't know, so that's a tick from me.  Her storytelling ability held my interest, which is good for another big shiny red tick.  On occasion the dialogue felt a little stilted, or a teensy bit Hollywood, and she fell into the debut novelist trap of using dialogue to impart information to the reader rather than keeping it realistic, but I'll cut her some slack with this; it was not constant, and, as I said, it's a debut novel, and a good one (nb, this is not her first published work, but her first published novel).  Her characterisation was good; Jaya, her sister Ruhi, and their mother, were real, as were Akash, his friend, Tariq, and his lover, Soraya; Ms Nasser writes them all in clear definition, and even the secondary characters were completely convincing ~ another big tick!

I was, however, less sure about the pacing and structure.  With the younger lives of Akash and Jaya taking up only around the first fifth of the book, I was given little time to care that much about what happened to them before suddenly they were older, and little had gone on in the intervening twenty years except more of the same.  How much more effective it would have been to have cut the line about speeding years, and have a couple of interim chapters showing their lives after five, ten or fifteen years, too.  Akash tells Soraya all he has suffered in those years, but I wanted to see it, not just read it in a spoken report.  I loathe clich├ęs, not least of all book reviewing ones, and you can't play out every scene or the book would be a thousand pages long, but in this case I needed to be shown, not told.  For me (and a review is only ever a personal opinion), a slow build up could have turned this 4* book into a 5* one. 

As the rest of the story unravels, Ms Nasser continues to write with authenticity, care and sensitivity, and I'd say that if you like emotional family dramas, you'll love this.

 

Sunday, 5 November 2017

A TINCTURE OF SECRETS AND LIES by William Savage @penandpension

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie Amber's Book Review Team, of which I am a member. However, I would have bought the book anyway as I have read and reviewed all of Mr Savage's books, which speaks for itself; reviews for the others can be found by clicking his name in the 'labels' at the end of the review.

Genre: 18th century history, murder mystery.  The 4th in the series, it stands alone, but I'd suggested reading the earlier books first to become acquainted with the players.

The first 35% or so of this novel takes place in the bedroom of our hero, Norfolk doctor and crime solver Adam Bascom; he is suffering from dire injuries following an accident, and, whilst recovering, is brought news of foul deeds and heinous crimes that deserve his attention.  Anyone who can hold my attention with the first third of a novel set in one room (and I read every word) is worthy of applause ~ indeed, in many ways, this is the best so far of Mr Savage's novels.  As well as the nicely plotted murder mystery, he has included more scene-setting, more detail about the day-to-day living of the time, and the history of the area; North Norfolk is particularly close to my heart, and the setting of his books is part of their appeal for me. 

The story brings to life so well the class hierarchy of the time, and tells how for the inhabitants of coastal villagers, involvement in smuggling was a way of life; I'd love to read another Bascom book based around this.  It also shows how those in power in England were concerned that the rebellion of the French peasantry would influence those in this country to rise up in the same manner.

With Adam housebound, the novel needed to step outside his Aylsham house eventually, to add drama, and I was pleased to see some chapters from other characters' points of view: Ruth Scudamore, who is absolutely my sort of girl (she has no time for fripperies and society trivia), her brother Charles, who finds himself far outside his life of genteel leisure when he joins in a military attack to stop a scuffle with a group of rebels, and Adam's groom, William, sent to uncover a mysterious 'quack' who sells his elixirs to the gullible public.  I was also very impressed by a chapter written from the point of view of rebel Peter Gort, who sees himself as a swashbuckling hero of the underclasses.

I was slightly underwhelmed by the wrapping up, and would have liked to see the baddies get their comeuppance(s) rather than just hearing about it in reports and letters, and just a bit more drama and impact, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the book ~ and the delightful way in which it ended: will Adam's romantic life unfold as he wishes, after all his doubt and frustration?  I look forward to the next episode, to find out!

Saturday, 28 October 2017

THE UNRIVALLED TRANSCENDENCE OF WILLEM J GYLE by J D Dixon @James_D_Dixon


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 Book Review Team, of which I am a member. 

Genre: Literary, psychological, contemporary drama. 

What a find.  This book is seriously good.  I mean, seriously.  I'd recommend it to anyone, whatever your usual genres of choice. 

Willem J Gyle is a bit slow.  But he gets by.  He lives with his mother, who takes care of all his needs, including finding him a job on a construction site which suits his size and strength, and where he makes friends.  He loves his mam, his dog, and the football on the telly.  Then, in just a few days, his world comes crashing down, and Willem finds himself homeless.  Having neither verbal skill nor knowledge of how 'the system' works, he is unable to find anyone to help him, and drifts into a life on the streets and, inevitably, crime.  Much to my surprise, his darker side comes to the fore, but is this innate psychopathy, anger at the world, an expression of pain for all he has lost, or just a primal instinct for survival?  I thought it was a combination of all those elements.

Winding up in a community of other homeless people, which he considers, at first, to be 'no more perfect place ... outside the law, above the law', he soon finds out that it's a reflection of the 'real' world, corrupt, with the weaker members suffering.  And on he walks....

Although the blurb appealed to me, I was dubious at first; the book starts off well-written but whimsical, which, coupled with the too-long and pretentious title, made me wonder if it would be slow-going.  But four pages in I was completely hooked, and stayed that way until the end.  J D Dixon has a real gift, the innate sort that cannot be learned from classes, 'how to write' books, blog posts, or anything else.  To me, writing talent is all about being able to create characters and worlds that absorb the reader completely, needing no wordy description, and JDD has this in spades.  He writes in a spare fashion, which I like.  He doesn't explain, or over-emphasise.  

The book is raw, rough in places, and sometimes shocking.  It's also immensely sad.  It's just - great.  One of the best debut novels I've ever read.



Tuesday, 24 October 2017

THE DARK ROADS by Wayne Lemmons @wayne_lemmons

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


How I discovered this book: Amazon browse ('also boughts').

Genre: Post Apocalyptic.

I loved the premise of this book.  It's an alternative reality set in the immediate future, in which climate change began to have a devastating effect on the world as early as 2015/6.  By 2021, it is no longer safe to be above ground during daylight hours, and anyone caught thus is instantly burnt to a crisp.  Most people are dead, water and food are scarce, and the heat has rendered vehicles unusable; the world is dying.  Three young men (Buddy, Richie and Elvis) are travelling on foot from Florida to Alaska, in the hope of finding some relief from the heat.  The story is their journey (I adore post apocalyptic cross-country stories, can't get enough of them!), as on the way they meet a few other survivors, struggle with near death as they almost get caught with no safe place to be before sunrise, cope with their own losses and, of course, are pursued by the evil 'feeders' ~ cannibals.

The book could do with a professional editor, or at least a more experienced pair of eyes; there are instances when a clunky omniscient narrator pops up out of nowhere, and a little head-hopping now and again, most noticeably in the epilogue, which changes from narrator to a first person point of view, out of the blue.  Also, there are times when the story skips over the boundary between fiction and unfeasible; the group find shelter in department stores and service stations, but there never seem to be any houses.  The author has a good handle on the effect of heat on some items, but now and again chooses to ignore his findings for the sake of the plot.  The group has a never ending supply of ammunition whenever needed, but I can't see a) where it comes from or b) how they could possibly have carried it all along with the food and the other utensils, medical supplies, etc.  

However (and it's a big 'however'!), Wayne Lemmons is a good storyteller and I was able to suspend my disbelief, most of the time.  I looked forward to getting back to it with each session.  The basics are all there.


I would have given it 3.5* rounded up to 4 on Amazon (because 4* means 'I like it', and I did!), if it wasn't for the epilogue, which was a big disappointment.  The whole book is about them getting to Alaska, where they hope to find a temperature in which they can sustain life, but there is no evidence to show that life is going to be much easier there, and the epilogue itself is less than two pages long.  I felt as though someone had told the author that he had to finish the book by lunch time, or something, so he just scribbled down anything without giving it much consideration, let alone the painstaking redrafting that all novels need.  It doesn't do the rest of the book justice.  BUT (and it's a big but!), I liked it enough to want to take a look the next book, which I will.   It's good, it's not bad at all - it just could have been terrific, that's all. 



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.

Genre: Crime Thriller/Gangster.


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.

Genre: Post Apocalyptic, SciFi, Dystopian

'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!