Tuesday, 30 December 2014

HOSTS by Dylan J Morgan

3.5 out of 5 stars (well, probably about 3.8 actually)

Horror

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE

 
 

I've read The Dead Lands and Flesh by this author and thought they were masterpieces of their genre, so I thought I'd try Hosts too. I know it was Morgan's first novel and so his style was not yet developed, but for a debut novel it has much to commend it.

Snow Peak is a small resort town in Canada, in which a deadly parasite threatens fatality for everyone.

The strengths - the terrific establishing of atmosphere. Dylan Morgan is so good at this; in Snow Peak there arrives the snow storm to end all storms. I almost felt cold reading it. His characterisation is also very good indeed, and he also has a real knack of introducing a new POV (character point of view) at just the right time, to keep the novel fresh and interesting. There's also some interesting information about cryonics at the beginning. The story itself is good, too, and Morgan does 'small town' very well, I've noticed before. The weaknesses? Nothing that couldn't be sorted out with a good proofreader and editor to make it as succinct and sharp as his later work; it rambles a bit in places, but I've rarely read a debut novel that doesn't. I saw this book as almost a trial run for the brilliance of Flesh and The Dead Lands, which I can't recommend too highly, and it's definitely worth reading if you're not too squeamish!


THE DEADLANDS by Dylan J Morgan reviewed HERE 


FLESH by Dylan J Morgan reviewed HERE

 

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Don't Touch (Null City Book 2) by Barb Taub


4.5 out of 5 stars

YA, urban fantasy

On Amazon UK HERE 
On Amazon.com HERE



Reviewed by me as part of Rosie Amber's book review team

Hmm, YA urban fantasy, right? I didn't even know what that WAS, let alone if I would like it or not. I bought this book because it was on offer, for a good cause (and still is, until the end of 2014!), and started to read it (as opposed to leaving it sitting on the Kindle with the hundred other unread ones) because I've read many blog posts by Barb Taub, and her smart, sharp wit is totally up my rue.



This is SO funny, I'd definitely recommend it. Lette (short for Roulette) Simoneau has a rare superpower. Each day, she has a new 'touch', which means that on a particular day everything she touches (with fingertips only) will turn into whatever her superpower has decided it will be that day. It might be jack-in-a-box toys, or roast beef sandwiches, or okra (that one made me laugh), or (hurrah!) diamond rings, or all manner of other things, including smells, or levitation. There are some real laugh out loud moments; it's very clever and witty, and completely off the wall. Barb Taub, I am going to get another Null City book soon, as long as you tell me one thing - what are you ON, and if you have any left, can I have some??!!




Tuesday, 23 December 2014

FROM THE INSIDE LOOKING OUT by Jo Carroll

5 out of 5 stars

Non Fiction travel memoir: Nepal, Laos, Cuba


On Amazon UK HERE




I won this paperback in a competition on the author's blog - such a stroke of luck! Beautifully presented.

Jo Carroll is a traveller. Oh yes, and she's a sixty-two year old grandmother from Wiltshire, whose family are used to her getting itchy feet and strapping on that backpack. I'm so envious! I really liked her account of her time in Cuba, I really really liked the story of her trip to Nepal, and I ADORED the section about Laos, the largest one in the book. I lay in bed reading it for three hours last night and was in another world.

The book is written in a friendly, conversational way, in the present tense, which works very well. It has all the every day feeling and humour of a Bill Bryson travel book, yet told me so much about the history and culture of the countries she's visited. I knew nothing about Laos; now, I want to know more, and have already been Googling images of the places Jo visited - and looking on Amazon to see if she's written any more books about her travels (she has! I've just bought 'Over the Hill and Far Away'!).

Lovely book. Funny, fascinating, flowing, easily readable, touching. If you love Bill Bryson and similar, you'll love this.

CARLA by Mark Barry

5 out of 5 stars

Psychological drama

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE 



I started to read this book at five o'clock this afternoon, and have just finished it. I haven't done that in ages. What a brilliant piece of work.

John Dexter is an extraordinarily mentally disturbed man who has done some terrifying things (many of which are, frustratingly, only hinted at), but he's also oddly likeable. After a while the problems created by his extreme fear-of-abandonment issues seem sort of - well, understandable. You feel sympathy for him, and want to help him. Yes, this is story of love and obsession but it's also a study of the type of psychological disorders attributed to him. The book is witty, clever, street sharp and kinda cool. I loved it. Mark Barry, thank you from saving me after a short run of abandoned books! This was a breath of fresh air, albeit a psychotic one.

A couple of things I loved about the Kindle version - when John, the narrator, digresses onto another subject, usually about a film or book that might interest you, he gives the exact phrase to type into the 'search' on your reading device so, if you like, you can skip the digression and get back to the story. Marvellous! I took him up on it a few times but not in others (I found myself wanting to read Norman Mailer's 'An American Dream') - and it worked! But this book is a perfect example of something I believe - never mind all the current trends in what are or are not acceptable in novel writing, when someone writes as well as Barry does they can stray from the plot all they like.
 

I've had this book for over a year, and am so glad I finally got round to opening it. If you've got it on yours too, please do the same!


THE NIGHT PORTER by Mark Barry reviewed HERE


ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE CITY OF CRIMINALS by Mark Barry reviewed HERE



ULTRA VIOLENCE by Mark Barry reviewed HERE







AN OPEN LETTER TO STEPHEN KING AND OTHER ESSAYS by Jenny Twist

4.5 out of 5 stars

Assorted articles

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE



I just spent a lovely afternoon reading this. It's worth five stars just for the articles about Spain, where the author lives. They're pieces about a rural, mountainous area of Andalusia (I think), where time stands still to a certain extent, and they made me long to be there - which is what the best articles about foreign countries do, isn't it? These were my favourite of the 'other essays', followed by some of Ms Twist's views on the effect of Women's Lib, the differences between the sexes, and why the media promotes skinny as the ideal shape for women. Agree, agree, with all of these!

Also in this collection are lots of articles with help for the new writer. Jenny talks about her experiences, and dares to embrace controversial subjects, ie, how many self-published books are just badly written: "For every great writer who never made it out of the slush pile in the publisher's office, there are hundreds who should never have been in print in the first place". Yet at the same time she is helpful, and illustrates her own mistakes and misconceptions. She has obviously become jaded about indie publishing companies too, as she comments that some (not all) have dubious standards and will accept most submissions regardless of quality; she now self-publishes.

There's an interview from another author's blog, too, in which she tells of her time as magician's assistant, The Lovely Tanya! I'd definitely recommend this collection, it's something you can keep dipping into.



TALES OF THE MANTEQUERO by Jenny Twist reviewed HERE

LOSING IT ALL by Marsha Cornelius

4.5 out of 5 stars

Drama, homelessness

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE



The novel is set mostly around Atlanta, Georgia in the US. Frank is a Vietnam vet whose life has crashed and burned, leaving him a vagrant trying to scratch out an existence as best he can. Chloe is a small town, naïve mother of two who has allowed her path through life to be determined by others. When husband Duane deserts her, everything gradually falls apart and she ends up in a shelter for homeless women.

Marsha Cornelius has clearly put a great deal of research into this story. I recently watched the 1960s BBC (UK) drama-documentary `Cathy Come Home', which shows how easily families in the UK in the 1960s could descend from keeping their heads above water into homelessness; this book had the same effect on me. It's shocking, but so real, and really made me think about how so many people are just a couple of salary cheques away from the street! The details of both Chloe and Frank's struggles are very well illustrated, as is their climb back to something approaching normality - though indeed, what they consider `normal' is not the conventional lifestyle some would expect.

The message of this book is definitely one of love and relationships mattering more than anything else, and about it being the simple things in life that can bring the most happiness. The romantic aspect of the story was perfectly portrayed too, I thought; not schmaltzy, or overtly sexy for the sake of it but just touching and true to life.

It's a story about love and hope, the goodwill of friends, and the discovery of inner strength. Recommended.

THE ONE AND SIXPENNY ENGLISHMAN by Harry Bergman and others

4 out of 5 stars

Non fiction, memoir, 20th century


On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE


Well, this was a nice little morning's read! I love reading true accounts of ordinary people from the early part of the 20th century; what always strikes me is how they accepted hardship and got through it the best way they could, with none of today's attitude of entitlement. Harry Bergman led a fascinating, full life. One thing I liked reading about was his entrepreneurial side; it's no secret that soldiers who came back from WW1 were treated appallingly by the establishment for which they had offered their lives, but Harry didn't sit back and complain, he just got on and made money in whichever way he could.

The photographs in the back of the book were lovely to look at, and made it all mean so much more.



Wendy Janes, Harry Bergman's grandaughter as named in this book, has contributed to anthology A KIND OF MAD COURAGE, reviewed HERE

KILLING INSTINCT by Darcia Helle

4.5 out of 5 stars

Underworld crime thriller

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
 


I bought this novel because I read a description of it in one of those lists of '50 indie books worth reading', and I'm glad I spotted it! Great story, about an organisation set up to satisfy the requirements of all manner of sickos (torture, rape, etc), and an excellent explanation of how the 'dark net' works, too - the underground internet. The book is extremely well put together, with no superfluous detail, no wandering from the plot. Darcia Helle has done something clever - she has written likeable hitmen. I loved Sean, who has that Jack Bauer thing going on.

The other thing that impressed me about this is that it's a pretty grisly novel written by a woman, and it's not girly at all. The women are the sort of women I want to read about. The guys are alpha males. This is actually the third in the Michael Sykora series, which I didn't realise until I was a little of the way in, but it's very neatly executed so it reads perfectly well as a stand alone. One of the elements that makes it so very readable is that the dialogue is terrific - always appropriate, realistic, sharp and sometimes amusing. I'll definitely be reading more of these books (starting with No Justice, which I believe is the first), and I'd recommend it to anyone who likes a good murder thriller and isn't too squeamish!


ELI'S COMING by Darcia Helle reviewed HERE 

 

HONOUR AND OBEY by Carol Hedges

5 GOLD STARS

Victorian murder mystery, humour

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE

I loved Diamonds and Dust, so I was very much looking forward to reading Honour and Obey - and it's even better. I liked the story much more.  They are both stand alone novels.




This novel is extremely clever and amusing and fabulously well researched. Carol Hedges' Victorian London is very much one of pantomime baddies and goodies; the ghastly Lobelia Clout and the horrible Crevices, the mysterious 'Lonely Widower' and Reverend Bittersplit, compared with put-upon Hyacinth, dutiful Emily, and our heroes, detectives Stride and Cully. But then there are also the clever street sharp survivors, like Tonkin the 'dolly shop' assistant, and the maid in the boarding house of disgusting cuisine, only ever known as the Foundling. Other wonderful pictures are painted of the ladies of the night, and (one of my favourites) the police surgeon.


Ms Hedges does something I find very entertaining. She shows how lives brush together briefly, only to go their separate ways almost immediately, never knowing the effect the characters might or have had on each others' past and future. Loved it, loved it. Unusual, perfectly put together, and I read several passages more than once because they were so good. No skip reading with this book!


DIAMONDS AND DUST by Carol Hedges reviewed HERE

BECOMING BEAUTY by Sarah Boucher

4 out of 5 stars

Fairytale re-telling

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE



What a fun idea - a re-telling of a traditonal fairy tale! I'm not that well acquainted with the story of Beauty and the Beast, so I didn't know what was 'meant' to happen, and just enjoyed it for itself.




I'm amazed that this is Sarah Boucher's first novel - Becoming Beauty is extremely well written and intricately edited, too. It's smart, witty and clever. I loved the main character, Bella, who is the sort of female protagonist I like - a bit snarky, a bit cynical and not at all girly. I imagine that it is something of a tongue in cheek re-telling; the first section (when Bella is bemoaning her lack of success with men, and her need for luxury and comfort) is actually very funny, and I did rather hope it would continue to be so. The humour lessens, to be replaced by a mystery which adds another dimension to the story and is very satisfyingly resolved.

If this sort of book is up your street, I'd recommend it very highly indeed. Oh, and it's about the best formatted Kindle book I've ever seen, too!

LUKE'S #1 RULE by Cynthia Harrison

4 out of 5 stars

Romance, addiction

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE



This was an interesting story, with much more about it than just your average romance. Indeed, it's not so much about love as family dilemma, based around single mum Chloe's desire to move three thousand miles to start a great new job and provide a better life for her and her children. I felt sorry for Chloe, who gets emotional blackmail from all angles! By putting her children first she is accused of being selfish - a hard one, with no easy answer. I liked the small town feel very much.

What really takes this book to another level is the storyline surrounding Chloe's ex, an alcoholic who's also addicted to drugs both prescribed and illegal. I thought the author dealt with this subject spectacularly well. Spence's childish self-indulgence coupled with self-hatred are beautifully observed, and it's obvious that Ms Harrison really knows her subject, whether from experience or detailed and clever research. The reader sees the problems of addiction within familes from the points of view of the addict, the partner who left, and the partner who is currently dealing with the situation; Bettina, the current partner, goes through several stages of optimism, denial, depression, etc. Very cleverly done, and I thought Ms Harrison's 'no frills' writing style really came into its own during these parts. Bravo!

I think this book would be enjoyed by anyone who likes a contemporary family drama, slightly edgy, with a bit of romantic, sexy stuff thrown in, in the form of Luke, the man with the rule he's so determined not to break...

AFRICAN WAYS by Valerie Poore

5 GOLD STARS

Non Fiction, memoir, South Africa


On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE




... I almost turned to the front and started reading it all over again once I'd finished it!

About Val Poore's three years of living on a remote moutain in Natal in the early 1980s, this book made me laugh out loud several times (the tennis club!) and provoked tears nearer the end. I've said in reviews of Ms Poore's books about her life on the waterways that she can make buying a bit of bathroom equipment interesting; here, she writes a brief chapter about the lighting of oil lamps and and it was so touching it made my eyes water.

The message this book gave to me is that, cliche though it is, it is the simple things in life that make you happy, the people and relationships that matter, and that sometimes by trying to make an almost perfect life even better you can actually spoil what you have (been there, done that). It's obvious to me that this was one of the most treasured periods of the author's life (if not THE most), and the emotion and love that pours into the book made me nostalgic for a place and time I've never experienced, too.

Included are fascinating insights into an unknown world ~ the ever present danger of 'veld' fires and how to cope with them, a world without electricity, a relaxed and self-sufficient way of life, weather casting via a mountain, a mixture of cultures and races so natural that it didn't need any self-consciously PC multi-cultural initiatives. Loved it - now I just want to see all the pictures, particularly of the little guide at Port St John called Sobriety!


Provided later by the author



If you have any interest at all in travel, Africa or a more simple way of life, please read this - worth every penny!



WATERY WAYS by Val Poore reviewed HERE


HARBOUR WAYS by Val Poore reviewed HERE





FLESH by Dylan J Morgan

5 out of 5 stars

Horror, thriller

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE



I bought this straight away after I'd read the brilliant The Dead Lands by the same author, and enjoyed this as much. I've become a fan!

Vacant is a one horse, hicksville town in Wisconsin with secrets ... Dylan Morgan does the 'scary redneck' atmosphere very well indeed. Although this is a horror story, it's not all blood and gore, as is perhaps suggested by the title. As with The Dead Lands, Flesh is about the people, not the monsters. Morgan is just an excellent storyteller; I read this in just over a day. As a writer myself I often find it hard to read books without constantly picking the editing to bits, but this was so good I just read it, my 'editing hat' dropping off without my noticing. The pace is perfect, the change in character point of view is spot on, with just the right amount of information released at the right time. Oh, and the ending is great, I didn't predict it at all!


This book is sometimes tweeted thus:  "Her meal: French fries and peas with a two ounce grilled section of her husband’s cheating ass." 

I love that!  If you like Stephen King, you'll love Dylan Morgan - buy it!


THE DEAD LANDS by Dylan J Morgan reviewed HERE


HOSTS by Dylan J Morgan reviewed HERE

 

THE DEAD LANDS by Dylan J Morgan

5 GOLD STARS

Post apocalyptic, sci-fi, thriller, dystopia

On Amazon UK HERE 
On Amazon.com HERE



Reviewed as part of Rosie Amber's book review team

This is, without a doubt, in the top five 'indie' books I've ever read, and one of the best books I've read in a few years, full stop.

Right. I don't like Sci-Fi. I have zero interest in spaceships and mutant beings. I do, however, love the whole post-apocalyptic thing, which is what made me want to read this book, as well as its excellent title. I am so glad I made that choice!

Basic plot: a motley crew of soldiers are sent from one planet to save the president of a second planet. President has lain in cryogenic suspension since an end-of-world nuclear war a hundred years before.

Dylan Morgan is one hell of a writer. Each character comes alive immediately; we are given no description, physical or otherwise, but I could tell EXACTLY what each person was like almost as soon as they were introduced - a rare talent indeed. The Dead Lands is told mostly from the point of view of Lane, a former soldier and current bounty hunter, but also with guest appearances from other members of the team and connected characters, including one chapter from the point of view of one of the mutants. Very, very clever indeed, and actually put a different slant on the whole thing.


 
Morgan's writing is clear, concise, never rambling. He understands dramatic impact, suspense, pathos, emotion, though I suspect all this is executed automatically, as it is with those who can write this well. If you like this sort of book you will LOVE this, and I think you will even if, like me, you suspect it might not be your sort of thing. Why? Because Morgan realises something important. A truly great novel is all about the CHARACTERS, not about the plot. The plot is terrific, too, but this story is about human nature: love, loss, greed, betrayal, despair, optimism, friendship, family and strength.

Highly, HIGHLY recommended. I suspect I might be raving about this book for quite a while!


(Here's a review from another book blogger who really loved this book as well - read Between the Lines' account HERE )

(and another one from A Woman's Wisdom book blog HERE

FLESH by Dylan J Morgan reviewed HERE


HOSTS by Dylan J Morgan reviewed HERE

 

MADE IN NASHVILLE by Mandy Baggot

4.5 out of 5 stars

Light romance, country music

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE



I love the TV series 'Nashville' so I was very interested to read this - if you love it too, you should get this book! I'm glad I know more about country music through watching the series because it really helped me understand the atmosphere of this more.




This is a light, contemporary romance, witty and smart. Ms Baggot has got the genre licked! Jared's a terrific character, as sexy as hell! I think the absolute best one, though, was Mia, the slightly kooky best friend - I loved her, she's one of those characters I could really SEE, you know? I was very impressed by the way an English author has written Southern US so convincingly; she clearly has a real love for the whole Nashville/country scene, and this shows. She's done the throwaway remarks, the humour, so well. There are a couple of twists in the story which I didn't guess too - that's always a big plus!

Well done Ms Baggot - I think you should write more Nashville based books. I'll certainly read them!

PATTERN OF SHADOWS by Judith Barrow

4 out of 5 stars

WWII family drama


On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE



If you like family sagas and wartime drama I'd recommend this book. Pattern of Shadows paints a marvellously realistic picture of a working class family of the time, and makes the reader aware how much attitudes and expectations have moved on in the subsequent seventy years. Homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, violence, rigid prejudices, it's all there! It's obviously very, very well researched, which I always appreciate in a novel of this type.

There are many different story lines as the Howarth family meet with one difficulty after another. I didn't warm to the main character, Mary, who seemed rather frosty and humourless, but she was a woman of her time and situation; I imagine under her circumstances I might have been frosty and humourless too! The story really brought home how dreadfully limiting life was for women in such communities in those days.

Some of the characters were very well drawn; I particularly liked the penultimate chapter with 'orrible Arthur in the pub. At around 93% there was a bit that brought a tear to my eye, an indication of the isolation of old people living alone. I wanted to go round and take Mrs Jagger a cake!

I found some of the dialogue slightly wooden at first, with a little too much exposition, though it soon warmed up and the author's writing style seemed to 'kick in' properly around chapter four. I thought the ending (the last couple of chapters) were very satisfactory - the ending of a novel is so important to me. It was nicely wrapped up but still leaving a little doubt, and questions to be answered in the sequel, which I shall be reading at some point because I want to know what happens next. Which is what it's all about, really, isn't it?



CHANGING PATTERNS by Judith Barrow reviewed HERE


LIVING IN THE SHADOWS by Judith Barrow reviewed HERE

 



COURT OF CONSPIRACY by April Taylor

5 out of 5 stars

Historical, Tudor, fantasy


Originally posted on Amazon UK HERE on 28 November 2014
On Amazon.com HERE



I wasn't sure if I was going to like this or not - a mix of Tudor history and fantasy/magic? I was pleased to find that it was excellent, and I read it in two days!

The author clearly knows her subjects very well indeed, which always makes such a difference. The history itself is detailed and accurate, and I very much liked the accounts of the day to day domestic life of the period. I'm fascinated by the thought of possible alternative lives, and the idea of what might have happened had Henry VIII believed his wife Anne Boleyn over the accusations of her enemies is an intriguing one. Of course all events have a butterfly's wing effect, and Ms Taylor imagined the fates of other members of the Tudor court cleverly. The politics of the day are so well described, too; how quickly, in those dangerous and turbulent times, one could fall from favour...





I am not usually one for magic/fantasy novels, but this element of the story was most convincing; it made me think of a more grown up and serious Hogwarts! I wonder how much of it was just the author's imagination and how much was taken from the beliefs and practices of the time; I imagine it's a combination of the two. I particularly liked the parts about numerology and the breaking of codes; oddly enough I was only watching a TV programme last night about the use of codes in secret communications during Elizabethan times, and Ms Taylor has all this spot on. To sum up, the fusing of history with fantasy is very successful, and I shall definitely be reading the next book in the series before too long. I think it would appeal to anyone interested in the Tudor period, and to those who enjoy reading believable fantasy.


TASTE OF TREASON by April Taylor reviewed HERE 


MANTLE OF MALICE by April Taylor reviewed HERE

 

THE GILDED LILY by Deborah Swift

5 GOLD STARS

Historical, 17th Century London

Originally posted on Amazon UK HERE on 25 November 2014
On Amazon.com HERE



I've just read this in two days - yes, folks, I couldn't put it down!

The Gilded Lily is a Restoration period drama about two sisters who run away from rural Westmorland to London after the elder one, Ella, robs the house in which she was in service. There is also doubt cast about her part in two deaths. It's about survival in the frightening, dark, murky alleys and squalid lodgings down by the Thames, and the steps Ella and Sadie take not to be discovered for their crimes. The novel is extremely well researched, so real. The domestic detail is fascinating, and the author describes so well the bleakness of the girls' lives.



It's hard to say why you find a novel unputdownable, but I've just spent about 4 hours curled up with the second half, and there was no way I was not going to finish it today! Ms Swift is a marvellous storyteller and I look forward to reading more of her books. Highly, highly recommended to all lovers of historical fiction; I didn't know much about this particular period but it's made me want to know more. You'll probably like it even if you think historical fiction is not your thing; it's just a great story, fabulously well told - a well deserved five stars!


SHADOW ON THE HIGHWAY by Deborah Swift reviewed HERE 


A DIVIDED INHERITANCE by Deborah Swift reviewed HERE