Thursday, 22 June 2017

SECRETS by Judith Barrow @barrow_judith

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com

How I discovered this book: I've read the three books in Judith Barrow's Howarth family series, so was interested to read this offshoot collection of short stories.

I read the whole collection this afternoon, and really enjoyed them.  Each story deals with a character who has a secret; the first few are quite short, the longer, more involved ones nearer the end.  I recognised some of the names from the series, but to be honest it's a while since I read them and some of them were only just familiar.  It didn't matter, though; they're all terrific stories.  The best ones are, I think, Alun Thomas and Stan Green's secrets, both of which are heartrending and take place during the First World War; I imagine I will meet these two when I read the prequel to the trilogy, which is out this summer.  I would have loved each one to have had a line showing the date after the heading, but it becomes clear approximately when they take place, soon after  you start reading.

What the characters have in common is their social class, and the book is a great illustration of how some situations caused great trauma for the subject, yet wouldn't matter at all today, or even occur; a boy of fourteen lies about his age and signs up to fight in the war, a girl survives a mother and baby home where the children are taken away for adoption, a battered wife has no choice but to stay with her husband.

Judith Barrow has done a great job of ending some stories with dangling threads, leaving you dying to know what happens next ~ thus, the outtake short story collection for a series.  It certainly worked for me!  But they stand up perfectly well on their own.   I definitely recommend them for a great couple of hour's reading.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

FORBIDDEN FRUIT by Stanley Gazemba

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.

Forbidden Fruit is a novel about life in a Kenyan village, about the vagaries of human nature, but I felt it was more an illustration of the life and times of the people; the plot comes second.  The 'forbidden fruit' of the title refers not only to an illicit affair, but other aspects of the story.

The main character is impoverished villager Ombima, who, at the beginning of the novel, is stealing food from the farms owned by his employers, simply because his family do not have enough.  I found the differences between the poor and the wealthy starkly delineated; this interested me and was very well done.  The descriptions of the rural life were quite an education, and even though, by Western standards, the lives of the villagers is harsh, I felt that they were no badly off than we are.  Certainly there was much joy to be found.

I found the dialogue a little strange at times; I don't know if it was translated from another language or if the author's first language is not English; there is no author profile on Amazon for me to see.  But it was a mixture of Americanisms and some curious choices of words; I don't know how Kenyans talk so I can't say whether or not it is authentic.

If you are interested in every day life in rural Africa I am sure you will love this book; every aspect of life is explored in great detail.

 

Sunday, 11 June 2017

THE LAST MERIDIAN by Joe Hefferon @HefferonJoe

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon.co.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.

'The past is a stone - you can carry it around with you, or you can step up on it to see what's coming over the next hill'.

The Last Meridian is a crime novel set in the 1960s, in the 'noir' sub-genre; it's not one I've explored before, and somewhere near the beginning I realised I should read it out loud, leaning against a lamp-lit wall down a dark alley, wearing a fedora and smoking a French cigarette.  I imagined this; it really did make the dialogue work! 

In the first chapter in 1948, a girl drives away from Illinois, along Route 66, heading for LA.  We don't know why, but Lynn becomes Nina, and starts a new career as an interior designer for the stars. Meanwhile, back in 1965, a man associated with the underworld is murdered, and the murder is witnessed by the teenage son of the victim's girlfriend.  Nina's involvement in this is one I didn't guess at all, and, as the mother of the boy tries to save her son, a private detective called CS and a journalist/writer called Jimmy are brought in, centre stage.

The book took a short while to gel for me as there are a lot of characters to remember, at the beginning, but before 10% I'd settled into the back-and-forth-in-time structure, and begun to really enjoy it.  Mr Hefferon is masterful at creating atmosphere, and I loved the cynical, seedy crime/Hollywood characters.  I especially liked some of the short backstories; that of CS, and mother Larissa, in particular.  The character I found the most interesting was Jimmy, and I liked the extracts from his manuscript, and his philosophical pondering... 'in some cross-layered way, each of us is the supporting cast for all of us ... how do we arrive at the places where our lives mesh with the people we need for our own narrative?'.  

...I liked the observations about the people, fashions and culture: 'Beards, shaggy hair and abraded clothing were just becoming the craze of the anti-establishment, yet this juvenile bandito remained stuck in 1958, unconcerned with change.  He had chosen his look ... he would wear it proudly until time and prison sucked the black from his mane'.

...about the locations: 'No one with any style lives in Bakersfield ... it's all money and no pizazz.  What kind of claim is 'Halfway to Fresno'?'

....and about Nina's dysfunctional marriage: 'In a lovers' paradox, they found each other attractive at different times, but never at the same time... it was a marriage of inconvenience'.

Joe Hefferon is an intelligent and talented writer, and I hope he is as proud of this clever and delightfully atmospheric novel as he should be.

The novel ends at around 90%, after which there is an author's note, acknowledgements, and an excerpt from another novel from the same publishing company.











Sunday, 4 June 2017

FARING TO FRANCE ON A SHOE by Val Poore @vallypee

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE


How I discovered this book: I got to know Val Poore on Twitter some years ago, and have read all her travel books; African Ways is my very favourite.  Links to Watery Ways and Harbour Ways on the above review.

In this memoir, Val and her partner Koos travel to France via their home of the Netherlands and Belgium, on their barge the Hennie-Ha - which really is shaped like a Dutch clog; see cover!

The beauty of this book is, I think, that it's so very real and unpretentious.  Nothing particularly breath-taking happens, but every time I picked it up I smiled at the way that Val Poore can even make a trip to the supermarket good to read about.  It's so genuine; there are no flowery descriptions for the sake of it, just Val's impressions.  And it's funny, too - not split-your-sides laughing, deliberately 'hilarious anecdotes' like some books of this type; her writing doesn't need that, because it hits the right spot so effortlessly.  Especially the nerve-wracking cycle ride to buy food:  juggernauts flying past, a flat tyre and the bed of stinging nettles....

As someone who believes that the simpler your life is, the happier you are, I sighed as I read about Val and Koos' memories of a happy evening that could not be captured in words or by camera, the liberation from the 'must do' stuff of the world left behind, and her appreciation of the occasional makeshift 'shower', after days and days of stand up strip washes.  The more I read, the more I liked it, until about half way through, when I wished I was IN it.

There are links to Val's photos of the trip on Flickr, which were great to look at.  A lovely book.


Wednesday, 31 May 2017

SAFE WITH ME by Grace Lowrie

3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads


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

Safe With Me is a contemporary romantic drama involving themes of fostered children and domestic abuse.  The story alternates between the points of view of Katerina (sometimes Kat, sometimes Rina), and Jamie. 

The novel opens with Kat in a deeply depressing situation.  After a terrible childhood in and out of foster homes, then life on the streets, she has been married for many years to Vic, a criminal who owns a greasy spoon café on a London market.  Her life is one of imprisonment, abuse and drudgery, as she works in the café all day every day, and spends her evenings tiptoeing round Vic's temper.  She hates him, but is completely worn down and unable to see a way out.   The one light in her life is her memory of Jamie, the little boy with whom she was fostered as a child.  I thought this part of the book was written very well indeed, I was most impressed.  I felt every moment of Kat's fear and hopelessness. 

Jamie, by contrast, has led a happy life, but always longed to see Kat again.  When they meet up, completely by accident, neither of them have any idea who the other is.  This novel turns on its head the current trend for unguessable plot twists, which I liked very much: in Safe With Me, the reader knows what's going on, but the characters don't.  It really worked, because I found myself wondering how they were going to discover each other's identities; the 'reveal' is well done, and is unexpected; I liked it. 

Ms Lowrie has a nice, easily accessible style of writing, very readable.  I did prefer the first half of the book, which, for me, had more atmosphere and realism.  The second half is centred round the relationship between Kat and Jamie, and Kat's road to recovery; it's done well but, for me, the climax of the book came too soon.  This is just a personal preference, of course.  Conflict/tension is provided by Jamie's ex-girlfriend, and the uncovering of some secrets of Jamie and Kat's past, but I thought the Vic situation was disposed of too easily, and sometimes descriptive passages slowed the momentum; I think it needed a better edit.   

This novel has much to commend it; on the whole, I'd say it's a book for readers who like the gradual unfolding of emotions to ponder over, rather than page-turning drama. 



Friday, 19 May 2017

SPIRIT OF LOST ANGELS by Liza Perrat @LizaPerrat

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE


How I discovered this book:  It was a submission to Rosie Amber's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.  I've read two of the author's other books, Blood Rose Angel and my very favourite, The Silent Kookaburra.

Spirit of Lost Angels is Liza Perrat's debut novel, and revolves around Victoire Charpentier, a peasant living in the village of Lucie-sur-Vionne.  It is linked to the later book, Blood Rose Angel, by the bone angel talisman passed down through generations.  This first novel in the trilogy takes place in the years leading up to the French Revolution.

Victoire's life is one of tragic events indeed, as she loses those she loves to accident, illness, the danger and politics of the times, and at the careless hands of the nobility.  Cast into a brutal Parisian prison, she meets the notorious Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Remy who inspires within her the fire of revolution; I liked the inclusion of a real-life character in this work of fiction.  All the way through the book I appreciated the amount of research that has gone into writing this novel ~ such an entertaining way to fill in the gaps in my education.  I enjoyed reading about the lives of the rural peasants in the beginning of the book, and comparing this with the medieval life in Lucie, four hundred years earlier, in Blood Rose Angel. 


Throughout the book, the gaping chasm between the lives of the poor and those of the ludicrously self-indulgent aristocracy is always evident; it was most interesting to read the thoughts of the time about the general lot of women, and, as in the medieval story, the restrictions due to social mores and religious belief/superstition.  Victoire lives many lives in her short one, and I was pleased to see her return to Lucie, and reunite with the family she had longed for, for so many years, and to see wrongs overturned.  

Showing the history of a country via the changes in one village over a period of six hundred years is such a great idea, and I now look forward to reading the third book in the trilogy, Wolfsangel, which is set during World War Two.

Monday, 15 May 2017

PLAYING THE ODDS by Kate L Mary @kmary0622


4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book:  I've read loads of Kate Mary's zombie apocalypse novels, novellas and short stories (click tag at end of review for more), and downloaded this one when I fancied a nice, light, entertaining book that I was pretty sure wouldn't be a disappointment.  I first discovered her via an Amazon browse, and this is the third in her series of novella-length, zombie apocalypse love stories.  Yep, you read that right.

Cole is (was) a professional poker player who breaks into a winery in the Napa Valley, which happens to be already occupied by Alessa, who happens to be totally hot and the only survivor of her Italian vintner family, aside from Antonio, her over-protective, football playing cousin who is built like a brick s**t-house and resents Cole's interest in Alessa.

Enter zombies, and several waifs and strays who are invited to join them at the vineyard, including dodgy Daren, who Cole is suspicious of from the word 'go'.  

Kate Mary's characterisation is always spot on.  This is told from alternating points of view of Cole and Alessa, and I like the way she made Alessa's attraction to Cole sexually orientated but romantic, whereas Cole was initially just doing the sexual bit; she never falls into the trap of writing men out of the head of a woman.   There's more pulsating desire/rampant pheromones and less post apoc survival in this novella than in the first one of this series (More Than Survival, which I loved), but it's still a well-told story, and I enjoyed it.  

Two other points I liked; firstly, the grapes and dice graphics at the beginning of each chapter.   Also, there are instances of spoken Italian in this.  The author's note says that she did this by internet translation as she doesn't speak it or know anyone who could help her with it, so apologises if she has made any errors.  I wouldn't have a clue if she has or not, but I thought this was a nice touch.  Like, "I did my best, and if there are errors, so be it, but please don't complain; you have been warned."