Monday, 22 August 2016

POISON BAY by Belinda Pollard

3 out of 5 stars

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


Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Review Team


Poison Bay is a mystery/thriller in a New Zealand wilderness setting.  Eight old friends meet up ten years later to go on a ten day hike masterminded by one of the group, Bryan.  Bryan has hidden motives in getting them all together, though, and the story gains in sinister overtones as the hike turns into a survival situation.

I love reading and watching anything about survival in adverse circumstances, and when I started this book I found the writing very clear and easy-readable.  I could tell that the author has done her practical research very well.  Alas, for me, the novel was lacking in depth and atmosphere.  The eight hikers remained one dimensional throughout, their conversation being unrealistic and information heavy, with no difference in language used, speech patterns or style of communication, all those aspects that make a character work.  I didn't connect with any of them; the girls seemed to just cry and hug each other, mostly.  I thought it seemed like a teen read, very clean, with women thinking badly of the one who sleeps with a man in the group, and the worst word anyone says is 'hell'.  It was all a bit 'jolly hockey sticks'.

The narrative was exposition heavy, with lots of 'telling not showing', and there was not much sense of place.

It's a fairly good plot, I did find myself wanting to know the outcome, I can't fault the English or the presentation, and I appreciated the knowledge that had been used to make it feasible, but with little characterisation, or portrayal of how dark the situation really would have been, it didn't really work for me, I'm afraid.


My article about debut novelist danger areas can be found HERE







Sunday, 21 August 2016

THE MEMORY BOX by Eva Lesko Natiello

5 out of 5 stars

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


Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Review Team

This is one of the most unusual books I've read in a long time.  I'd class it as a psychological family drama/thriller/mystery ...  it's hard to classify and hard to review, too, as it's imperative that I don't give away the terrific twist.  And it really IS terrific, not like some books hyped as having an unguessable twist that half the reviews say you can suss out in the first chapter.

Right, so we start off with suburban housewife and mother, Caroline Thompson, who doesn't fit in with the image and doesn't really want to; she detests her gossipy, nosy, trivia obsessed neighbours.  Slowly, we begin to see exactly how much she doesn't fit in; this is one disturbed woman.  But is everything as it seems?  Caroline's whole psyche is affected by the mysteries and half-memories of her past.  Why did her sister die?  Is she really dead at all?  

I grew more unsure as I read on, and had questions: why did none of her friends or family make Caroline seek help?  How come her husband just accepted all her excuses for forgetting stuff, acting strangely, etc?  She was clearly undergoing a severe emotional breakdown.  But then, in part two, the last ten per cent of the novel, the whole story turns on its head; such an unexpected turn of events.  Before, I was going to give this 4*, because I found some of Caroline's muzzy-headed thoughts a little repetitive and I thought the premise wasn't completely feasible, although I was certainly enjoying it.    Once I'd read the last ten per cent, I realised it deserved 5, without a doubt.  Quite brilliant!

I LOVE the way this lady writes, it's sharp, acutely observed, slightly manic in a way that really works, with some clever, amusing metaphors.  Highly recommended to anyone who likes something a bit different.  Great ending, too; that's another little about-turn, after the terrific twist, by the way!


Friday, 19 August 2016

THE BOOKSELLER'S TALE (Oxford Medieval Mysteries Book 1) by Ann Swinfen

5 out of 5 stars

Medieval Mystery

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



I'm such a fan of Ann Swinfen, and this book lived up to my expectations ~ don't ignore all those book promotion tweets flying past on Twitter, it's how I discovered her!

This is a cosy sort of murder mystery set in Oxford, in which bookseller Nicholas Elyot discovers the body of a student from the university floating in the river.  Sure he was murdered, Nicholas takes it upon himself to solve the crime.  I felt the plot came second place to the historical interest of the story, which suited me fine.  The book is intricately researched, and serves as an education about the time, in the most enjoyable way possible.  Beautifully written, I could imagine every scene, whether in the busy streets of the town, in the cottages, the university grounds, the dark alleys on the dangerous side of town, the roads out to Banbury, or the lanes out to the water mills.


The time of the book was of added interest to me because it takes place just a short while after the Great Plague has died out; I learned much about the long-term effects of this pestilence.  Interesting to read a post apocalyptic story from over 600 years ago; I suspect the people of the time dealt with it better than we would now, mostly because they were already equipped with the skills they would need.


The characters are real people, and, as with Ms Swinfen's other books, I felt sad when I'd finished it and eager to read more.  Highly recommended to all readers of well researched, literary historical fiction, and especially to anyone with a particular interest in the history of story writing, bookbinding and selling, and, of course, the history of Oxford.

This Rough Ocean by Ann Swinfen is reviewed HERE, with links to Flood and Betrayal (all set in the 17th Century).





Sunday, 14 August 2016

THE SEVEN YEAR DRESS by Paulette Mahurin

3 out of 5 stars

WW2 drama/Auschwitz

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


Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Review Team


I always head straight for books set in World War 2, and this book has so many good reviews that I couldn't wait to start it.  I'm afraid I was a little disappointed by it, though there is much to commend, too.

In the present day, student Myra rents a room from Helen Stein; after a while, Helen reveals all that she suffered as a Jewish girl living in Berlin during the war and, later, in Auschwitz.  I thought the parts in the concentration camp seemed the best researched, treated with sensitivity, not sensationalised, and would certainly serve as an education for anyone who doesn't know about the atrocities commited by the SS.   The build up of anti-semitic feeling in Germany is portrayed well, as is the bond Helen formed with a friend in Auschwitz.  Earlier on, though, there are parts that seem unlikely, at best.

Helen's friend Max is homosexual.  As a thirteen year old, he talks about this to Helen.  I doubt very much whether a boy of that age from a traditional family background in early 1930s Europe would have even acknowledged such sexual preferences to himself, let alone talked freely about them.  There were other attitudes and phrases that I felt came from a more modern era.  I also doubted that Max would have had access, later, to the high level German campaign secrets that he revealed to Ben and Helen.  Then there is the bear rooting about in the 'trash cans' outside the farm buildings in Brandenburg.  There have not been wild bears in Germany for nearly 200 years (I looked it up). 

The other thing I wasn't keen on was the sexually orientated passages, which I thought were tacky; it's possible to write about a girl becoming a woman, and longing for love, etc, without it reading as though it's aimed to titillate.

There is a fair bit of historical fact woven into the novel, some convincingly, other parts clumsily.  I liked the epilogue, I thought it was a nicely written, suitably poignant ending.  I can see from the Amazon sites that this novel has been received very well by many, and I wouldn't not recommend it, but for me it was just okay.




Saturday, 13 August 2016

BABY X by Rebecca Ann Smith

4 out of 5 stars

Medical Thriller

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



Reviewed by me as a member of Rosie Amber's Review Team 

Baby X would come under the subsection of 'medical thriller', I presume.  Human interest comes in the form of Karen and Robert Frey, a couple who have suffered miscarriages and try all sorts of methods to become pregnant, eventually agreeing to IVG, which is a process by which the egg is fertilised outside the body and the foetus gestates in an artificially prepared womb.


The thriller part comes in the form of doctor Alex Mansfield, who has a great deal to think about apart from Karen and Rob's plight and the growth of Baby X, not least of all the shady medical experiment company Verlaine, and their plans for the future of childbirth.



The book is very well written, nicely paced, not too long, and I enjoyed it.  The mental deterioration of Alex and the dilemmas faced by Karen are convincing, and the author obviously knows her subject.  The medical information is completely outside my sphere of knowledge, but it's not too difficult to understand, even for a childfree person like myself.



Who would enjoy it?  Any women who have ever suffered any problems with fertility; I imagine they would find it fascinating.  Any women who have had experienced pregnancy and childbirth, too, I should think, and are okay with reading something quite hard-hitting; this is a thriller, not a yummy mummy book!   It's good.  I haven't got anything negative to say about it.




Monday, 8 August 2016

TRUST ME I LIE by Louise Marley

4 out of 5 stars

Light Mystery

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


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


Trust Me I Lie ~ a hard one to categorise; it's lighter than a serious crime solving, too edgy and current for a cosy mystery (a point in its favour, in my book), and even the quite dark stuff is written with a fairly light hand; yes, I'd class it as a 'light mystery with romantic undertones', if a seriously dysfunctional family with a hundred and one secrets and a few murders can be described as light!

It starts when Good Cop Ben Taylor is driving home in a storm and comes across a woman walking in the middle of the road ~ instantly he is drawn into the complicated world of Milla Graham.  But is she who she says she is?  Or is she even the person she says she isn't?  Is she a total nut job?  Indeed, this mystery winds back and forth with many a clever plot twist; it's certainly not predictable and I kept being surprised, which is good.

At times I found it a bit too confusing and thought that it could have done with a bit more thinking through; not the plot itself, in which I didn't find any holes, but the way in which it was conveyed; at times I thought, eh?  Writing a complicated mystery with lots of characters is an incredibly difficult thing to do, as you have to know exactly which bits of information to leak out when, how much emphasis to give certain points so they're not overlooked by the reader, etc etc.   But even when I wasn't exactly sure what was going on I still quite liked it, as Ms Marley writes nicely, I loved the idyllic setting(s), and I'd just think, oh well, I suppose that bit will make sense later.  It usually did.

I wasn't quite sure if I was supposed to like Milla or not ~ I didn't, I found her too brattish, but she's well written, very current, a typical contemporary fiction type heroine, a bit ballsy, a bit screwed up, pretty independent, etc.  Ben is lovely, I really warmed to him, and I liked Milla's cousin Mal, too.  

Who would enjoy it?  I'd say female readers between the ages of 18-40 who've read five thousand contemporary romances and have moved onto something with a bit more meat to it.  I've probably just described Louise Marley's existing readership!

(At the end there is an excerpt from Ms Marley's book 'Nemesis', which I thought was very good ~ downloading shortly!)




Thursday, 28 July 2016

ACCUSED: British Witches Throughout History by Willow Winsham

5 GOLD stars

Non-fiction: British witches throughout history

On Amazon UK (published on July 30) HERE
On Amazon.com (not available until Nov 2) HERE
On Goodreads HERE



This an incredibly well researched and cleverly put together book, and fascinating with it.  Accused is a series of studies of just a few of the witches of our history, each one explored in great depth, giving details not only of the accusations levelled against the so-called sorceress in question but also her life.  Each paints the picture of the woman and the time in which she lived, providing insight into the social structure of the time (such as how a woman might be demoted from the title 'Mistress' to that of 'Goodwife'), the effects of economic instablity, fears of divine retribution ~ and, sadly, how easily events could be manipulated by those higher up the social strata for their own benefit, as in the case of Joan Flowers.  She was accused of causing the deaths of the two heirs to the title Earl of Rutland, but others suggest that the deaths were caused by the man who sought the hand in marriage of their sister, who would, thus, bring the lands with her as a dowry if her brothers were no more.


Willow Winsham talks of the swimming of witches, the ducking stools, the rarity of burning in this country, and of corsned, something I hadn't heard of before, which involved the 'witch' eating consecrated bread to see if she could swallow it.  Then there is Isobel Gowdie and her Scottish coven, the case of Welsh witch Gwen fetch Ellis, and possibly the most well-known English witch, Jane Wenham.  

The book moves into the 18th century, when belief in witchcraft itself was outlawed, leading to more support for anyone, like Susannah Sellick, who was accused ... and then to the case of spiritualist Helen Duncan, in 1944, who strikes me as being little more than a charlatan aiming to make money from people who had lost loved ones in the war.  However, one thing I noticed about this books is that, to a certain extent, Ms Winsham leaves the reader to make up his or her own mind as to whether or not certain whisperings of the supernatural kind might have been present at any one time.  I liked that.


I read the hardback edition of this book, which is definitely worth getting.  The middle includes many pictures of the locations mentioned, of the indictments of the witches of hundreds of years ago, and the art and literature of the time based on the belief of the existence of witches.  Finally, the author suggests that in these modern times, other groups of people have risen to be victimised in the place of the witch, people who, in the eyes of the common man, threaten 'to consume all that is held dear'.  In other words, nothing changes....

A stunning and admirable piece of work, highly recommended.

I received a review copy of this book from the publishers, Pen and Sword books, the receipt of which has not influenced my assessment.