Friday, 27 February 2015

THE GODDARD AFFAIR by Scott Marlowe

About 4.8 out of 5 stars

Short stories, adventure, fantasy

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE


Reviewed by me as part of Rosie Amber's Book Review Team



As with most well constructed sequels, it is best to read the prequel first (in this case, the previous volume about The Assassin Without A Name, The Killing Knife), but not imperative.

I've just spent a very enjoyable couple of hours reading this.  The assassin attends a dinner party given by a society he wishes to infiltrate, which is where he meets the intriguing Gwendolyn Morgan and becomes involved in her fight with her brother, one of the assassin's clients.  But never mind my summary of the plot; I made notes when I was reading as I usually do, but they didn't do it justice.  You'll discover the rest of the plot for yourself when you read the book ~ my job is to say BUY THIS NOW if you love seriously good adventure in fantasy worlds not so unlike our own.  Or buy it because you love ingenious weaving of unguessable plot about-turns and skillful characterisation, especially if your preference is for those that make you say "I'd better go and download the next one" as soon as you've finished it!

I'm not a lover of fantasy fiction, generally, but Marlowe does that clever thing that only truly talented writers of this genre do: he makes his imagined world so believable that it all seems just as feasible as the one in which we live.  His hero is super smart and witty and the story itself is a gem, but the beauty of this book lies in the smooth, amusing prose that seems almost effortless.  The Goddard Affair reminded me of Roald Dahl's My Uncle Oswald (a book most definitely for adults, not one of his children's stories!).

I can say no more except that this is one classy writer - highly recommended.

THE KILLING KNIFE by Scott Marlowe reviewed HERE






PARTY GAMES by E J Greenway



4 out of 5 stars

Political drama

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE


E J Greenway's debut novel is a neat tale of political intrigue and treachery that starts with a dramatic event then goes back in time so that the reader can discover how events build up to this end - such a clever idea.

As her bio will tell you, Greenway works in the political world and clearly knows what she's talking about.  I liked the way the novel shows such things such as the management of PR for the politicians; yes, I know we all know that the leader of the opposition doesn't really revel in taking part in a school cookery class, but it was fun to read about it, too.  

The book is paced well and intelligently written, and I became increasingly aware how difficult it must have been to conjure up a completely fantasy political landscape, though how much is fantasy I suppose we don't really know.  It did make me wonder about the real people behind the public faces.


I do think that this would be enjoyed most by readers who have an interest in the political world; my knowledge is scant and some of the terms went slightly over my head.  There are a lot of characters to process from the beginning, but obviously the world in which the story takes place determines that it will include many characters, and if you read it in long sittings, as I did, rather than dipping in and out of it, this should cause you no problem as they are clearly defined.  If books about political intrigue are your thing, I think you'll love it.  Also now available is the sequel, Power Play :)




Tuesday, 24 February 2015

WHAT HAPPENS TO MEN WHEN THEY MOVE TO MANHATTAN by Jill Knapp


3.5 out of 5 stars

Chick Lit

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE


Reviewed by me as part of Rosie Amber's Book Review Team 

When I started to read this novel I realised that I am probably at least twice the age of its target audience, but, hey, some of all this stuff still seems like yesterday, so I'll do my best! 

It's a book about which I kept changing my mind as I was reading.  I thought it needed a bit of tightening up generally.  It's nicely written, witty in places and easily readable; Jill Knapp's got the right sort of voice for a book about young women in Manhattan.  Some of it I liked very much and there were some good observations about relationships to which I reckon a lot of women, young and old, could relate.  There's an excellent confrontation with a two-timing douchebag at 68%, too!  My main problem with it, though, was that it's a bit light on plot.


Basically, graduate student Amalia is having a rough time with men/working out what she wants in life, and her friends aren't faring much better.  That's kind of it.   I found some of the story a bit hard to get my head round; Amalia's long term relationship with Nicholas has levelled off to the extent that she has the emotional headspace to fall in love with Michael, yet she is heartbroken when she and Nicholas part company, a situation for which there is not sufficient explanation for a novel that's solely about romantic relationships, not to mention the fact that Nicholas metamorphoses into a completely different character later on in the book.  I thought her 'is it/isn't it' relationship with Michael was very real indeed, but there wasn't enough actual drama in it to make the situation very compelling to read about.  Not enough happened.  Also, I kept getting mixed up between her friends, particularly Christina and Cassandra; one less of them might have been a good idea.

I liked the bits about her brother and the observations about New Yorkers, and think this book would be enjoyed by plenty of young women who like very current sort of chick lit/light romance.  It's set up for the sequel by there not being much end resolution, but that's okay; it works.  It's worth getting if you are a fan of this genre; if I was 22 I'd probably have given it 4 stars!



Saturday, 21 February 2015

TASTE OF TREASON by April Taylor

5 out of 5 stars

Tudor history, fantasy, magic

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE


Taste of Treason is part two of April Taylor's Tudor Enigma series, which is a fantasy about an alternative history in which Anne Boleyn did not miscarry Henry VIII's son, and remained Queen. Henry IX is now King, and in this episode his wife, Madeleine, is expecting their first child.  But dark forces work against them...

Central to this series is apothecary Luke Ballard who happens to be an Elemancer, one who practices white magic.  Oh yes, and Anne Boleyn, still a force with which to be reckoned at court, is one of these fascinating beings, too; what a shame she wasn't in real life!  Luke works from the kitchen behind his humble shop, where he treats the sick.


I so enjoyed the first book in the series, Court of Conspiracy, having been interested in the Tudor aspect though dubious about the fantasy/magic.  But these books are a delight.  They're the sort of thing you want to read when snuggled up in a duvet with lots of pillows (as indeed I have been doing).  Ms Taylor paints wonderful word pictures; all the time I was reading this I wanted to be in the world on the screen of my Kindle.  She writes so beautifully, and this book was even better than the last, with a more suspenseful pace created by the changing of point of view at crucial points, most chapters ending on a cliffhanger.  I was unable to guess the outcome or the identity of the evil Nimrod, dispenser of dark magic; I had several guesses throughout the book and was pleased to find I was wrong every time!  


I think this book would appeal to anyone with an interest in the history of the Tudor period, and also anyone who enjoys clever fantasy.  This is such an unusual idea, and Ms Taylor has excuted it so well.  The third book in the series, Mantle of Malice, is due out on 23rd February; I shall be first in the queue!

COURT OF CONSPIRACY by April Taylor reviewed HERE


MANTLE OF MALICE by April Taylor reviewed HERE

 

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

A milestone!





My book blog has now had 10,000 views!  I am so pleased, and just hope that at least some of the reviews have resulted in a bit more recognition for the writers.  The main reason I started the blog was so I could help promote books I love (especially those that are as yet little known) and be a more effective reviewer in my role as part of Rosie Amber's Book Review Team.  I started it after my December reading binge and it got kind of addictive, I have to say.  

All reviews have tags at the bottom - if you want to see any other books in a certain genre, about a particular subject or with a certain star rating, etc, just click on a tag and it will bring up all the others that are tagged similarly. 

Want to see which books have been viewed the most, in the two months since the blog started?  Here are the top five: 

Inkker Hauser Part 2: Literastein by Phil Conquest, with 737 views



The Dead Lands by Dylan Morgan, with 631 views



The Great Law of Peace by Zoe Saadia, with 445 views



A Single Step by Georgia Rose, with 426 views


The Turning of the World by John Privilege, with 424 views



Happy reading!

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

THE RELATIONSHIP SHOPPE by Susan Paulson Clarke

3.5 out of 5 stars

Contemporary drama, romantic suspense

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE


Reviewed by me as part of Rosie Amber's Book Review Team

Marian Sheffield and her friend Belle start a website and bookshop based around self-help for people suffering relationship difficulties and break-ups.  In the meantime, though, they are both working through their own post-divorce transitional periods, and coming to terms with single life and meeting new men.  Central also to the story is a singles' group, the structure of which I have to say I found rather odd, but this might be just because of cultural differences between England and Texas, where the book is set.


I found this book to be written in an easily readable, conversational fashion, with many elements in it to which women might relate.  I liked the way in which the story is half love stuff and half business, the latter of which I found interesting.  Ms Clark writes well, and the book is professionally presented with minimal errors.  Some of the characters are cleverly drawn: the volatile Belle, her horrible father, and the hilarious Agnes—the slightly nutty middle-aged woman who isn't able to move on from her marriage break-up that happened years and years previously.   Some good comedic moments there!  The character that didn't work for me, though, was Marian.  Sadly, I couldn't 'see' her at all.  Much of the time she comes across as a tad sanctimonious and too set in her expectations of people for a girl in her twenties.  Alas, her understanding of others seems to come mostly from the pages of the books she sells; I wasn't sure if this was done on purpose or not.


Generally, I felt the book needed a good content edit.  There is a fair bit of unnecessary activity at the beginning; Belle's walking out of the business then walking back in, and an unrealistic scene in which Marian walks out of her job to work full time on Stairstepz; a single woman with children to support, walking out of a well paid job because of a remark made by her boss?  Okay, it happens!  But there are too many coincidences—a chance meeting with someone in a café who's perfectly placed to help her, a friend's son who just happens to invest in new technology businesses—a lot of exposition, and developments/character reactions that were not particularly feasible but just there to move the plot along, sometimes to the point of being contradictory to what's been said before.  However, this all lessens as the book progresses.


I did guess who Marian was going to end up with very early on in the book though I don't think it was glaringly obvious, and I found the whole attitude towards relationships a little old-fashioned but, again, this might be just cultural differences.  To sum up, it's a novel with a lot of potential by a writer with talent; it just needs a bit of sorting out!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

SHADOW ON THE HIGHWAY by Deborah Swift

4.5 out of 5 stars

17th Century history, YA

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE


I didn't realise when I bought this that it was a YA novel, as the blurb doesn't say so, but I thought I'd read it anyway as I've read another of Deborah Swift's books and thought it excellent.  I've just spent a very happy afternoon reading the second half of this, it was great!

Set right in the middle of the English Civil War, Shadow on the Highway is about deaf lady's maid Abigail Chaplin, who is taken into service by Lady Katherine Fanshawe, a girl of around her own age.  However, Katherine is far from in control at Markyate Manor, as Abi is to find out.

This is one of those 'half fact, half fiction' stories that I love; I didn't realise exactly how much was fact until I read the historical notes at the end of the book (I think it's probably better to read them afterwards, when they mean more).  I love Ms Swift's work; the research is so complete but the details are never laboured; she assimilates her knowledge of the times so smoothly, so that a picture of the time is painted almost immediately.  Her books are so very readable.  One thing I very much appreciated about this novel was the way she put questions in the reader's mind about certain characters' backgrounds early on, but does not answer them until much later.

I became more aware of this being a YA novel in the last quarter, though before that I think it could have been meant for any age.  I'm not really into YA as a rule, but I think I'll still have to get the next one in the series - and what a marvellous way to learn about history for teenagers; this is far more interesting than any history lesson I sat through.  It brings the time to life, which is what learning history should be about, isn't it? 

THE GILDED LILY by Deborah Swift reviewed HERE


A DIVIDED INHERITANCE by Deborah Swift reviewed HERE

 


Wednesday, 11 February 2015

THE TURNING OF THE WORLD by John Privilege

5 GOLD stars

Contemporary drama, post apocalyptic

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE



This was a bit of a 'couldn't put it down' book, for me.  It's my favourite genre at the moment anyway, but this is something different from other slightly Hollywoodised examples I've read.

Bobby Reynolds is a Canadian living in Northern Ireland with his wife when the Quang-Tri flu pandemic erupts. The novel is about the aftermath, from the end of normal life to ~ what?


The reason I liked this book so much is that, apart from being so well written that I had to keep saying 'just one more chapter' when Him Indoors wanted me to put my Nexus down and watch Spartacus with him, (i.e., one of those books that damn well ought to be traditionally published), it's realistic.  I suppose.  Who knows?  Maybe other countries would fare differently from Ireland, with all its in-fighting.  The story takes its characters through the childlike belief that 'the authorities' really will make everything all right, the discovery that those in power do not always tell the truth to the public (no, really?!), and the sorting of wheat from chaff: the survivors and the victims.  It shows how some personalities flourish under adverse circumstances, some get harder and more self-serving, some brutal, and how some just give up.  


There are some moments of happiness in the lives of the comunity around which most of the book centres, but John Privilege has also shown something that, sadly, is probably the truth: that living in the aftermath of a global disaster is not all about the swashbuckling waving of swords, middle-aged housewives suddenly becoming handy with a firearm, and the occasional euphoric realisation that we don't need all that electricity and internet and stuff to be truly fulfilled.  It's mostly just cold, miserable, and boring; it's back to the Dark Ages but with the country ruined and filled with people whose instinct is just to take what they need in whatever way they can.  This book is far from boring, though.  It's one of those I kept thinking about it when I wasn't reading it.  I liked it very, very much indeed, recommend it highly and will read anything else this writer cares to publish.

No zombies, but others just as frightening...

THE AMERICAN POLICEMAN by John Privilege is reviewed HERE





Sunday, 8 February 2015

INKKER HAUSER Part Two: Literastein by Phil Conquest

5 GOLD STARS

Dark humour, contemporary drama, novella

Literastein and Rum Hijack are currently unpublished, and will be published again along with the 3rd part in the series.


Artwork for both covers by Joel Cortez @ChairmanJoel on Twitter

I've just received and read an advance review copy and had to put my notes into shape straight away.  Although it's a sequel I'd say that it can be read as a stand alone, even though the scene is set in the first part.

I loved Part One: Rum Hijack, but this is even better.  I'll just explain.  The novellas (this one is approx 25k words) are first person accounts from the point of view of a nameless young man (who gives himself the name Inkker Hauser, explanation in part one), who is convinced that he has within him a great literary talent that will astound the world, that will make his readers 'beg like peasant simpletons' for more.  The only problem is, he doesn't actually write anything.

  
'Inkker' has a (mostly quite well contained) drink problem, is a loner and beyond eccentric.  He rants against the commonplace, the popular, the idiocy of others, but while doing so still shows a vulnerability and sweetness that makes him oddly endearing.  In this second episode his lunacy accelerates, his behaviour becoming more bizarre.  Phil Conquest's writing has become sharper since the last episode, too - this is tighter, with terrific observations and satire, as well as some lines that made me spit my Diet Coke out with laughter when I read them.  

Literastein takes place mostly on just one night, when 'Inkker' has a date with the lovely Tylissa, in his local pub.  I get the impression that he's a rather good looking chap who could possibly be quite a hit with the ladies and find the love for which he so longs if he wasn't borderline insane.  We don't know exactly where he lives; a reasonably sized town in southern England, I imagine.  The pub scenes are spot on, with the locals, the atmosphere and banter so well written.  For all his wanting to impress Tylissa with his suavity and literary swagger, the night takes on a darker turn of events as 'Inkker' throws back double rum after double vodka, snorts amyl nitrate in the loo, and regales Tylissa with his tales of air and nautical disasters.  I could feel her edging away from him when he mentioned his scrapbook filled with pictures of ambulances.... oh, okay, I won't spoil it!  Considering the amount he had already drunk before meeting her (he couldn't decide between a vodka and red bull and a White Russian, so he had both), it was always a disaster waiting to happen. 


Half of the novella is taken up with the date, and if you think that sounds as if it might go on too long, I can assure you it doesn't.   The ending is an absolute peach, and made me want to nip over the Atlantic and hold a gun to the writer's head until he's written the next installment!  This book is so, so funny and unusual, unlike anything else I've read and certainly nothing like the sea of formulaic genre fiction about which our hero rants.  I likened the writing style of 'Rum Hijack' to Jerome K Jerome's 'Three Men in a Boat'; part two is less like that, and I think it might be enjoyed not only by those who like clever satire but also by readers of the English 'lad lit' of people like Nick Hornby, though 'Inkker' makes Hornby/Nicholls/Gayle heroes seem blandly well-adjusted. 

It's just great.  Read it!

INKKER HAUSER Part 1: Rum Hijack by Phil Conquest reviewed  HERE


Wednesday, 4 February 2015

LIVING BY EAR by Mary Rowen



5 out of 5 stars 

Contemporary drama, romance, music 

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE



I'd never come across Mary Rowen before but I read a very interesting interview with her on A Woman's Wisdom blog, which you can see HERE , thought this book looked good and downloaded it straight away.  I had a quick look at it to see what it was like, thinking I'd get to it at some point over the next couple of months - but I just kept reading it!

Ms Rowen is a terrific writer, so talented.  I loved every bit of this, there were no boring bits to skip read, no sections that sounded a bit contrived or unfeasible, and it all just flowed, so smoothly.  I love books about the music industry by people who know what they're talking about, and I was certainly not disappointed by this.  Chris Daley is a rainbow haired, freedom loving busker in the early 1990s who ends up married to a successful Boston lawyer, Jon, along with the whole suburbia and two kids bit.  She still hankers after her old life, though, and her old musician boyfriend, Curt.  We first meet her during her divorce from Jon, and the story is built up by flicking back and forth from present to past, a structure that always works for me.  Another thing I liked about this book was that it wasn't predictable; there were a couple of plot developments I guessed but more I didn't, and even at 80% I still hadn't got a clue how it was going to end up!

Don't know who this is, but she made me think a bit of Chris!

Chris Daley is a very 'real' character - very occasionally she got on my nerves (she seemed to be under the impression that it was all about HER at some points, and I felt sympathy for Jon), and at times I wanted to shake her because she couldn't get a grip and do the best thing for herself, but on the whole I liked her and felt I would have got on with her.

I'm so glad I found this, by a chance read of a blog post!  I shall certainly be getting Ms Rowen's other novel at some point in the not too distant future.  I'd recommend it to anyone who likes to read about musicians, but you don't need to have any knowledge of or interest in music to enjoy it as much as I did; essentially, it's just a contemporary drama about family, love, disappointments, hopes and dreams.  Well done, Mary, I hope you're really proud of this - and nice one, too, for the two mentions of Aerosmith, but I suppose in a music orientated novel set in Boston this is bound to occur!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

SIX MONTHS TO GET A LIFE by Ben Adams



 4.2 out of 5 stars

Contemporary drama, family drama, lad lit

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE




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

This is a very well written, enjoyable, easy-read contemporary drama of the grown up 'lad lit' variety, and I read it all in one go - which is a good recommendation, for a start! 


I was a bit worried, before I started it, that it might be too much like a Nick Hornby or David Nicholls, but Ben Adams definitely has his own style.  His main character, father of two sons Graham Hope, is a newly divorced 42 year old, pretty despondent about most aspects of his life.  Graham gives himself six months, until his 43rd birthday, to make the changes on his to-do list.  The story is written in diary form, something I like and think works very well for a novel of this type.


I found Graham frustratingly unsure of himself and meek at first, but he does grow some cojones somewhere in the middle of the six months!  It's very 'real life' but in a cosy sort of way, and contains moments both touching and amusing; the humour is generally of the quiet smile provoking rather than the hilarious, though I did laugh out loud at some funny phone-connected bits at 44, 46 and 63% - I always note down when a book actually makes me do that!


Negatives?  Hardly any.  Not a great deal happens and some threads could have been developed more to good effect, but that's fine; it works.  I did find some of the dialogue a little odd; I can't imagine any woman ringing up a man a couple of weeks after a one night stand and saying 'It has been a while since we made love', and I was a bit confused by Graham's concern about what 'having sex with a divorced woman' would be like - it's not the 1950s, when a divorced woman might be seen as a little racy, or indeed anything out of the ordinary!  But Graham is not a man of the world, so perhaps that's in character - I was just pleased he got out of the marriage to the draggy ex.... 


To sum up - I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who likes light family drama, lad it, stories about real life and realistic relationships, and especially if you're divorced with children; you'll probably relate to much of it.  I liked Graham, and his sons; it's the sort of book you close with a smile and that makes you think, yes, I enjoyed that!